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So Your Child Is Feeling Off — Now What?


We are not explicitly claiming every parent needs a getaway, but hey, we’re not ruling it out. While we can’t foot the bill for your tropical escape, here’s some advice with a side of validation: Embrace a breather from the daily chaos — and yes, that goes for the kiddos too. When you start to feel the physical or mental effects of burnout, allow yourself a break and recognize when your child needs that, too. Outside of the constant juggling of the day-to-day, how are you supposed to know what to do when your child seems a bit…“off?” When schedules are crazy and virus season is upon us, trying to gauge what’s wrong and the best next steps can be difficult to navigate.

We consulted Dr. Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and Abbott partner, as well as JoAnna García Swisher, a busy mom, actress, and Abbott partner, on their best tips to navigate both the mental and physical wellbeing of your family.

Be prepared for a sick day.

Before we get into how to navigate a sick day, let’s first talk about how to be prepared for one. The best thing you can do for your own sanity is to be proactive and purchase a few key items to keep on hand to avoid any surprises. As parents, we all know by now what these items are: the standard medications, a thermometer, tissues, chicken noodle soup, etc.

However, Swisher reminds us that adding Abbott’s BinaxNOW COVID-19 Self Tests to your “sick-day essentials kit” can provide a sense of ease as we head into the busyness of the holidays. “If anyone in my family shows symptoms or is feeling sick, I make sure we test them with BinaxNOW Self Tests as a first step because it gives me peace of mind right away, as well as a sense of control and allows me to determine the best next steps,” she says.

Decipher what’s ailing them.

But it isn’t always just physical symptoms that can affect our kiddos. We also have to think about and be aware of emotional distress symptoms as they can manifest physically, says Bonior. “There is no real line between the mind and the body, as stress can cause physical symptoms,” she says. While that can make it difficult to determine whether your child needs an actual sick day or a mental health day, she calls out specific key signs of mental and emotional tension:

  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Changes in appetite
  • Lack of interest in doing usual activities
  • Break in social routine

Bonior adds that headaches and stomach problems can also be caused by emotional stressors. To gauge if those symptoms are due to emotional tension or physical illness, you’ll want to communicate further with your child — which leads us to our next point.

Show your support and open an honest dialogue.

Of course, this one’s easier said than done. That’s why Bonior recommends a few conversation openers you can use when you notice your child is feeling off. These are also great ways to deepen your relationship with them on the daily, symptoms or no symptoms.

  • What has been on your mind?
  • What feels big to you in your life right now?
  • What’s different from school this year versus last year?
  • How are things going with your friends?
  • Does anything hurt? When did it start bothering you?
  • Has anything made you feel worried or uncomfortable lately?

Make the best of a sick day.

Bonior says that it is important for them to know that the goal of the time away from school is to rest and recover from being sick or to work through the distress they’re experiencing — not just getting a bonus vacation day. This way, they can get back to school feeling healthy and well without missing too much and getting behind on schoolwork. “You do not want to enable school avoidance with distractions during their day off that will not solve the problem,” says Bonior. “If it’s mental distress that’s bothering your child, you’ll want to relay to them that just like a rest day for physical illness helps them heal, a rest day for mental health helps them reset and grow more resilient.”

For a mental health day, Bonior recommends some healthy, calming, and restorative activities to do together:

  • Ground yourselves in the moment with something sensory and comforting, like a fuzzy blanket warmed from the dryer or some calming white noise like a waterfall.
  • Encourage your child to draw or journal about how they’re feeling.
  • Make a list that outlines what you’ve been grateful for as a family over the past year.

Help ease them back into school.

Whatever the reason for taking time off, it can be difficult for a child to go back to their old routine after having a break from it. That’s why Bonior recommends creating dedicated time to check in as a family. Talk to kids about any signs of physical ailments they may be feeling and be proactive about talking to them prior to any upcoming events or situations that might be causing stress or anxiety.

Then, schedule another check-in after they’ve gone back to school. Bonior suggests a light Sunday evening that won’t be as busy as a morning before school. Sit down with your kids and start a conversation about how they’re feeling.

Be easy on yourself.

Perhaps our favorite advice on this list, Bonior reminds us to remember that some of the best parent-child conversations are not started by saying the “perfect” thing. “Convey the fact that you are ready to listen in a patient, open, and non-judgmental way.” Take some of that pressure off yourself with the expert-backed reminder that perfection doesn’t need to be the starting point for a positive, fruitful result.



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