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Coping When Your Child is Ill

By: Sarah Knowles BA, MA - Updated: 28 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Coping When Your Child Is Ill

It's difficult enough trying to take care of an ill child, especially when he or she feels desperately poorly and looks to you for comfort and support. But as a busy working mum, it's even worse when you can't stay home to look after him or her because of work commitments.

Sick Children and Working Mums

Every child falls ill. If your child is attending nursery for the first time, expect them to become ill at least several times in the first six months. You can plan on them being off for at least a week when they get chickenpox, and be prepared for periodic sick days throughout their time at school, especially when a bug is making the rounds.

Sending a sick child to school or daycare is not a good idea. In fact, some nurseries - and even schools - have strict rules about keeping children home who display specific outward signs of illness, such as fever, streaming nose or diarrhoea. But what's a working mum to do when Junior wakes up with a high temperature two hours before she's due to give a major presentation, or starts projectile vomiting just as they begin the school run?

Asking for Time Off When Your Child is Ill

There are ways to minimise disruption in the workplace when you have no choice but to take time off. They include:

  • Checking with your employer beforehand about their policy about taking time off if your children are sick so you will know what to expect
  • Learning if you will be required to use up your personal or sick days when your child is ill
  • Preparing things at work for colleagues to do in your absence, including a set of emergency instructions at your desk
  • Asking your employer if you will be allowed to work from home if your child falls ill
  • Finding out if there are any flexi-time options available if you miss work, such as working overtime or on the weekend, so as not to lose pay

Know Your Rights

Emergency Family Leave gives parents a “short amount of unpaid time off” to take care of a sick child. It stipulates that the amount of time should be enough to deal with the immediate problem and make further long-term arrangements if necessary.

Despite this, many employers are not happy when mums take off work to look after their children, especially as this usually happens with no warning. In fact, according to recent reports, more and more working parents are sending their children to school ill for fear of losing their jobs.

In addition, as the statutory right to time off is unpaid, for many parents a sick child brings about financial worries. And a recent survey found that more than 50 percent of parents struggle to find alternative childcare arrangements when their children fell ill unexpectedly. That's why every working mum needs contingency childcare plans, just in case.

Emergency Childcare Plans

If both parents work, you may be able to trade off taking care of an ill child. But if that's not a possibility, you need to have other contingency childcare measures in place. They include:

  • Enlisting the help of a family member or friend. If your mother-in-law or best friend is able to step in for you at a moment's notice, the battle is won
  • Asking another mum to share her nanny or au pair. Au pairs or nannies looking after only one child often have time available to help you out in a pinch. However, this may not be a feasible option if your child has an illness that is contagious
  • Bringing the child to work if only mildly ill. Older children may be able to occupy themselves quietly, reading or doing homework, while you work
  • Allowing older children to stay home alone. There is no legal age at which a child may stay home alone, although it is against the law if doing so puts them at any risk

When children need to stay home due to poor health, the burden is usually placed on the mother. And when Mum works - even if the boss is a sympathetic one, which is often not the case - it can all too easy cause strain at the workplace. However, with a little forward thinking and behind-the-scenes planning, hopefully the tension can be minimised and life can be made a little bit easier for everyone involved.

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