December 11, 2011

With cold season comes healthy question

With cold weather on its way, local schools will soon be full of runny noses, flying germs and excessive phlegm.

What this means for parents is we have to hone an underrated but important child-rearing skill: How to tell when your child is actually sick.

This can be more difficult than the non-parent can imagine, for two reasons. The first is that some children lack the communication skills or the self-awareness to accurately describe their level of illness.

One of my sons is constantly suffering from one thing or another. My foot hurts, my arm hurts, my head hurts, my throat feels funny, my hair is all tingly, I can't feel my nose at all, I'm bleeding internally.

Sometimes he's really injured or really sick. Other times his pain or discomfort disappears within minutes.

This was most recently a problem when visiting my dad at Thanksgiving. My son complained that his stomach hurt. We figured it was one too many cookies … until he vomited all over the living room. Again. And again.

The second difficulty is that children are devious. Can you really believe what they say and do?

Even in my own time as a perfect son, there were occasions — I was unprepared for an exam, intimidated by a bully, scared that I might have to talk to a girl — when I would fake sickness.

I would let out a hacking cough, wheeze occasionally and completely refuse solid food. How could they be sure, one way or the other?

Parental diagnostic skills tend to be rather rudimentary. Still there are things you should and shouldn't do when trying to determine if your children are a danger to themselves and others, or if they just need a healthy dose of algebra class.

▶ Do not plug your child's symptoms into an Internet diagnosis page.

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