Sick Days

Lynn JataniaI work from home, and I think that means my kids get more sick days than the average student. It’s pretty easy for them to convince me that they need a day of rest if they have a bit of a cough or a slight fever. I admit I’m probably too easily swayed and I do tend to cave in when they look up at me with big sad eyes from where they have swooned onto the couch.

But I do need to actually work during the day – I can’t spend it being their nursemaid. That means they’re on their own for entertainment, and of course, their first choice is screens.

It’s been hard to figure out the rules when it comes to sick days. On one hand, we want them to rest, and flaking out on the couch in front of a movie is a great way to keep them in one place. But on the other hand, getting to glue their eyeballs to spoon-fed entertainment for a day feels kind of like a reward, which does not exactly encourage them to go back to school; plus, that kind of day-long intake can’t be good for their brains.

Our sick day rules around here change on a sliding scale based on how long you’ve been sick.

Day one, the kids are on a one-hour-on, one-hour-off rule. They’re allowed to have one hour of screen time – be it apps on their phone or YouTube videos or watching a TV show – but then they must take a one-hour break. Break time is for reading, or napping, or taking a hot bath, or staring at the wall if they really can’t think of anything else to do, but no screens. This pattern continues all day, which means they’re still getting more screen time than I’d like, but it at least keeps their expectations set and I don’t have someone at my elbow all day long asking for more screen time.

If they’re sick enough to stay home a second day, screen time goes down. This is both because they are, in theory, really sick and need to rest, and because we want to make sure they aren’t extending sick time to scam another screen-filled vacation day. So we go down to no screens all morning – just reading and resting – and then one movie in the afternoon. No video games or YouTube allowed.

If they’re still home on day three, they have to earn any screen time by doing homework. I’ll get assignments they’ve missed from their teachers or give them some math or English review worksheets on my own. Once they’ve worked, then they can have up to an hour of screen time as a reward. Usually my kids have to be pretty sick to choose to stay home and do Mommy Homework rather than just go to school and suffer through a day with a bit of a cough. The piddly amount of screen time isn’t worth it.

How do you handle screen time when your kids are home sick? Is it a free for all, or are there rules?