“Hey Mom, I don’t feel good. Can you pick me up?” With school having started, it is my guess that many parents have already seen this text message from their child. As kids have more technology available to them, it has become easier for them to reach out to parents with a quick phone call from the bathroom, or a text from under the desk, asking to be picked up from school. This is quite different from years past when it took a bit more effort, or a visit to the school nurse, to get a call out to Mom and Dad.
As a parent myself, I have gotten this text message and it is hard to always know how to respond, as we do not want our children to suffer if they truly are sick. Many times, parents are getting this message, not because their child is physically ill, but because there is something else going on that is causing worry or that is trying to be avoided. Sometimes the worry itself can cause kids to feel sick to their stomach, get a headache, feel dizzy, etc.
There are many things that children find stressful throughout the school day that can lead to worry, anxiety and even sadness. Common things that tend to lead to the “can you pick me up text message” include a forgotten assignment, a big test or presentation, a difficult day in
PE or a fight with a friend. As much as we would like to shield our children from difficulties like these, we do them no favors by “rescuing” them from their day to day challenges. These challenges are part of daily living and help to teach children how to respond to difficult situations, problem solve, communicate their needs and deal with disappointment, failure, and embarrassment. These challenged also help kids learn how to manage and cope with their feelings. By coming to the rescue and picking a child up from school when they ask, as parents, we are basically saying, “we know you can’t handle this,” when indeed they can handle whatever comes their way.
I often suggest to parents to address the “can you pick me up” text message in a certain way. This is the same way I address the same situation with my step-children. As a parent, you can either choose not to respond to the message at all or to simply respond that if they are sick, they can go to school nurse. If the school nurse finds the child to truly be sick, they will call you to pick up your child. Whichever way you choose to respond, will teach your child to figure out the best solution for themselves by problem solving their current situation, experiencing their emotions and learning that they can handle whatever difficulties the day might bring.
Once your child does come home from school, it will be important to talk with them about their day. It might take a little digging to discover what was going on. I have found that asking about the day, class by class, is helpful when your child is older, or reaching out to the teacher directly for younger children. Allowing your child a safe space to share about what was going on during the day will allow them to express themselves and give you the opportunity to help them problem solve or resolve any specific situation that caused distress during the day.
Kids of all ages are strong and resilient, if we allow them to be. It is difficult to see our children struggle, be unhappy or uncomfortable. However as adults, we know this to be part of life and encouraging this resiliency in our children will be greatly beneficial as they grow older. One of the greatest things we can do for our children is to let them know that we believe in them to handle whatever comes their way.
Sarah Goedjen, MA, LCPC