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Some children, who seem to be healthy, spend a lot of time in the school office or with the school nurse.
The most common complaint is a stomach ache. But many complain of a headache or say, “I don’t feel good.”
The usual story is that the nurse can’t find anything wrong. The child lies down in the office until Mommy comes. When the child gets home everything seems fine. The children eat and play normally. Often when questioned they will say everything is fine at school but they just get stomach aches there. Sometimes they say that they miss their mother and that gives them a stomach ache. Sometimes there is major stress in the child’s life like a divorce or illness in a sibling. Sometimes there is minor stress like being excluded from a group of friends or worrying about a test in school.
Usually, if the child ends up at the nurse’s office several times the parents take the child to the doctor who also finds nothing wrong.
In the early grades at school both boys and girls do this. Later girls seem more prone to frequent visits to the nurse, probably because boys are realizing they are supposed to tough things out. Often these children are ultra-sensitive. They squirm if a clothing label touches their neck, for example, and seem to complain of minor aches and pains that other kids shrug off.
These children are not pretending they are sick, they truly FEEL SICK although they are not. This ability to FEEL so sensitively is a basic personality trait and will not change although both parent and child can learn how to cope with it.
One mother I know read her daughter the legend about the boy who cried wolf and they talked about how to tell the difference between a bad stomach ache you should call to the attention of an adult and the kind we can all get from being upset. One idea was to use the clock. If it still hurt in 15 minutes or if it has gotten worse maybe it’s best to go to the office. Another idea was to write down her feelings in a notebook.
The trick is to allow such a child to express her feelings, even if they are ultra-sensitive feelings, without letting the child get out of responsibilities at school. And, of course, parents have to be just sympathetic enough so the child knows they care without being so solicitous the child figures out going to the nurse is a good way to get whatever they want at home.
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