Q: How can I tell if our teenager is faking an illness to get out of school? He often complains of not feeling well on school day mornings, but, interestingly enough, his symptoms usually disappear by mid-afternoon and rarely surface at all on weekends. Is it wrong of me to distrust him?
A: Many children struggle with overwhelming stress and the anxiety of going to school. It may be that your son truly does not feel well because of this (for example, our emotions affect our digestive system). Consider taking him to a doctor and/or a counsellor who could help determine what might be contributing to these morning episodes. If a medical evaluation uncovers a specific diagnosis, come to an agreement about what should be done – including the parameters for going to school versus staying home.
If the problem doesn’t appear to be an ongoing physical illness, ask your son what he thinks about the night before school or on school day mornings. Discuss what is happening socially at school or in the neighbourhood. Ask questions with no obvious right or wrong answer (“Who do you like to hang out with?” or “What’s your least favourite class?” or “What causes you the most stress?”). This may provide the opportunity to talk about things that influence how he is feeling emotionally and physically.
Armed with that information, there are several practical things you can do to help your son. Look at how you handle stress, and proactively model how to do so in healthy ways. Work with him to find and practice what best helps him to process anxiety, according to his personality and interests.
Also, acknowledge that life can be scary and also managed. Help your child feel heard and validated. Remind him that you’re on his team and care deeply for him. Help him feel safe in sharing what troubles him.
Finally, set some positive goals together (attendance, grades, etc.) and celebrate as those objectives are met.
Again, don’t be afraid to seek help as you go through this process. To speak with someone from our Family Support Services, call us at 03-7954 7920 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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