Sick of school?

Manaswini Sridhar

My son repeatedly falls ill. In a year, he misses at least 25 days of school. When he was in the primary section, it was still possible to send him back to school without too many hassles. Now that he is in the 5th standard, it is becoming increasingly difficult for him to cope. He is a good student, so I would like to know what I can do as a parent to help make his going back to school less trying. Every time he falls sick, he is more apprehensive about having to ‘connect’ when he goes back to school than he is about his health!

School is not just about homework and studies. School is about friends, having fun and ‘learning’ about the outside world. Children who are frequently absent from school often feel miserable and isolated because they miss all the enjoyable happenings in school. They also get a little worked up because they know that there will be a huge pile of work greeting them on the day they are back to school. They may also have missed out on certain competitions and events that they had been gearing up for and looking forward to throughout the year.

Many mothers become ‘hyper’ the second the child falls ill because they fear that the child will miss out on work at school. Taking your child to the doctor and nursing him for whatever illness he has caught, is priority one. Other things follow.

As a parent, we all know for certain that there will be days when the child is not going to be well and will therefore have to be dependent on a responsible classmate to help with the notes or homework. Make sure that your child cultivates the friendship of such children so that it becomes easier to ask for help and there are not too many gaps to fill in when the child returns to school. Encourage your child to act in a similar manner for other children when they are not well or when their help is solicited.

Parents must first take the initiative of getting in touch with the class teacher to inform her how many days the child is likely to be absent. The interested and concerned teacher will then be able to tell the parent how much the child is likely to miss and whether there are things that the child can read up at home. Besides, the teacher needs to understand that the parents are interested in what is happening at school. Some parents unfortunately make no attempts to touch base with the teacher, probably because they do not have the confidence to do so. This can be misconstrued as lack of interest or arrogance on the part of the parents and may make things unnecessarily more complicated for the student.

Once the child has recovered from the fever and is a little bit better (but not well enough to attend a full day of school), encourage the child to contact a reliable friend, but at the friend’s convenience. Remind your child that he cannot call up the minute his friend comes back from school because he may be tired or may have too much homework or may be going to a class, etc. Children who have been at home for long periods of time forget how busy school can keep them. It is the duty of the parent to keep reminding their wards so that they do not inconvenience the classmate. Instead of relying on a single classmate and calling him up every single day, it would be wiser to have in place two classmates whom one can rely on. This takes the load off the classmates also. Find out what time would be convenient and also find out whether it should be done via the phone or via mail. Encourage your child to send and receive mails rather than talk on the phone. Getting things down in writing makes it clearer and it also saves the other student’s time.

If there are notes to copy, do not borrow the student’s notebook for an extended period of time. At the end of the week, go over to the student’s house and photocopy the notes at a place close to the student’s house and hand back the notebook immediately. This will set the mind of the student’s mother too at rest, for many mothers do not encourage lending of notebooks because they feel that they never come back in one piece! Once the photocopying has been done, ask your child to copy the notes into the respective subject notebooks. How long can your child watch TV or play computer games? Motivate your child to pack in some of the schoolwork into his schedule. By copying the notes, the student also becomes aware of what is happening in school.

Ask your child to spend time going through some of the subject textbooks. If a test has been given, tell your child to do an open book test so that you know whether your child has comprehended the lesson. Tell the child to mark portions that he has not understood so that he can ask you, a classmate or else a teacher later on.

Once your child is healthy enough to attend school, make sure that he takes to school whatever medication still needs to be continued. Set an alarm in his watch so that he takes it on time. He does need to be responsible for his health. Ask him to get back in form in a slow but steady manner. He must remember to thank the classmates on whom he relied during his period of illness. He must also remember that the best way to repay this kindness is to act in a similar manner when another classmate falls ill.

The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Chennai. She can be reached at manaswinisridhar@gmail.com.