You've just managed to pull yourself out of bed and into an outfit that pushes the career casual envelope, when you hear a plaintive voice call out from your child's bedroom: "Mom, my tummy hurts!"
Many parents have found themselves bleary-eyed in the early morning hours playing Russian roulette with the infamous "tummy ache". Is it serious? Or do they just not want to go to school? The wrong diagnosis could mean a call from an irate school secretary who now has to clean the vomit off her shoes, or a missed day of school for a perfectly healthy child.
Lots of kids have days when they do not want to go to school. But if your child suffers from a string of mysterious illnesses or even a lack of scholastic enthusiasm, there could be an underlying problem.
Here are some problems to look for:
An undiagnosed learning disability:
Sometimes kids begin to struggle as they progress in school in areas like math and reading. It may not have been that obvious in the very early years because not as many thinking skills are required. "Kids who have problems in those areas obviously are going to have some trouble following along and they may not be excited to go (to school) because it's hard," says Jessica Cooperman, a psychologist in the Child, Adolescent and Family Services unit at Markham Stouffville Hospital.
What to do:
Sit down with your child's teacher to discuss the problem. Does the teacher notice the same things? Has your child been struggling? If you believe the teacher is ignoring the problem, contact the principal in writing and request an Identification Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) to look at your child's case.
If a child is being bullied, they will often avoid school. Signs to look for are:
- Your child used to like to go to school but doesn't anymore.
- Your child used to be happy and isn't anymore.
- Your child does not seem to have any friends. For example, if your child never gets invited to birthday parties there is a problem.
What to do:
Check out our tips on bullying, or watch: Can You Protect Your Kids from Bullying and Cyber-bullying?
Different learning styles:
Every child learns differently and sometimes the sage on the stage kind of teaching does not reach your child. As a result, they could have trouble grasping concepts.
What to do:
Teachers are often very good at tailoring their teaching to certain learning styles. Discuss a plan of action with the teacher. If that still does not work for your child, look into alternative schools that may suit your child's needs better.
An underlying emotional problem:
"(Children) may have an underlying emotional problem that may not necessarily be particular to school," says Cooperman. "You may see it coming out with academic performance, dropping and withdrawing from friendships and things like that. They may not feel like doing much of anything."
What to do:
Do not diagnose anything yourself. Once again, the first stop is the school. Ask the teacher if they've noticed anything and enlist the help of the school social worker (if there is one). Then seek help from your child's doctor. They can make a referral to a therapist that is covered by your provincial health plan.
If the problem is due to an event in your child's life, like a divorce or death, make sure you keep the school informed. The school can work with you to help your child get over the hump.
They just think school is too hard:
Some kids do not have a learning disability and are not really struggling but they do not want to work hard. Parents with kids in French Immersion can struggle with this problem, especially if their child's friends are not in the same program.
What to do:
"I think it's always a struggle for parents to decide: am I doing my child a favour by helping them deal with something difficult or is it way too difficult and it's just not appropriate?" says Cooperman. "I think you really need to collaborate with your school personnel and see because they have experience with other children. You as a parent also know your child and their limits, so I think it's really the collaboration of home and school that is a good place to start."
They are nervous about an upcoming test or presentation:
Do not be so quick to dismiss the tummy ache as a ploy to get out of school. Very often the tummy ache is the result of anxiety or worry over a test, presentation or assignment. Small children do not have the life experience to help put things in perspective. This test may not matter in the long run but they don't get that. Also, many children are just prone to worry.
What to do:
Cooperman suggests giving your child relaxation tools. Save time the night before the big day to do something really fun. Go for dinner, see a movie or just goof around the house. Also, just before bed, try some relaxation techniques with them like deep breathing. It will distract them and relieve the anxiety a little bit. "If you know you have a worrying kid it could probably reduce a really hard night on everyone," says Cooperman.
Also, teachers generally are really understanding about these things. If you have a worrying child, approach the teacher and see if the assignment can be broken down into smaller chunks or if there are any studying techniques your child can use. Often, the teacher will reassure your child that this test is not worth worrying over.
They just hate school:
In an unscientific poll posted on TVOKids.com, out of 674 kids, 171 kids said they hated school and 173 said they liked it a little bit. Sometimes, your child hates school because they hate school. If their grades are fine and their friendships intact, do not worry about it for now. "For some kids, they're just not going to love school no matter what you do. But that's a small minority," says Cooperman. For more, watch Why Do Some Kids Hate School?