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A new national poll from the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital suggests that many parents struggle with the decision of whether to keep their middle or high school aged child home from school if they are feeling unwell. Factors that parents consider include how their child is behaving due to symptoms, the risk of contagion, and whether the child will miss important academic or extracurricular activities. One in five parents also consider allowing their child a mental health day if needed.

The poll, which surveyed 1,300 parents of children ages 11 to 18, found that many parents are more likely to keep their child home from school when unsure of their child’s level of illness. Academic considerations also play a role in parents’ decision-making process, with many parents noting that their child worries about missing tests, social interactions, or school activities due to an absence. The decision to keep a child home from school can therefore involve a complex mix of physical and mental health factors.

In some cases, parents may consider allowing their child a mental health day, especially if face-to-face interactions at school are triggering or exacerbating mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. However, Clark emphasizes the importance of not allowing children to skip school whenever they expect difficult social situations, as building resilience through facing discomfort is a natural part of life. Parents can help their child develop healthy strategies for handling social stressors and seek guidance from mental health providers for children with diagnosed conditions.

Most parents surveyed indicated that their child’s school has an attendance policy, which they believe is important for ensuring consistent school attendance. While many parents feel that the policies for making up missed work are reasonable, they also acknowledge the challenges faced by children with chronic medical conditions who frequently miss school due to medical appointments or exacerbations of their condition. Clark suggests that these families may need to have discussions with school administrators and teachers, as well as consult with healthcare providers for support in requesting flexibility in completing assignments at home or with extended time.

Overall, the decision to keep a child home from school due to illness involves a careful consideration of a variety of factors, including physical symptoms, mental health concerns, and academic implications. Parents play a crucial role in addressing these factors and supporting their child’s well-being, while also complying with school attendance policies and advocating for children with chronic medical conditions who may need additional support. By navigating these challenges thoughtfully and seeking guidance from healthcare providers and school officials, parents can ensure that their child receives the necessary care and accommodations to maintain their physical and mental health while staying engaged in their education.

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