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Sick Note!

"Sorry, I think I’m gonna be - euggghhhhh... "

Adults sometimes manage to use this phrase before being sick. Unfortunately children don’t. Children have simply not yet learned the being sick social skills that adults have; i.e. to try to warn everyone within hitting distance that if they don’t move out of the way very quickly they might well be caught in a deluge of lukewarm flying carrot soup.

Many children are not usually even aware that they are about to be sick. They treat sickness as they treat every other area of their experience – spontaneously. They can be quite happy half way through completing a jigsaw or playing with the boats in the water or in a group on the carpet during story/music activities when the explosion happens. Group times are probably the worst, because there are so many children packed into a small space that huge numbers get covered in flying sick.

Those of us who work with young children have very rare occasions when we are lulled into a false sense of security. Everything seems to be going so well. Look around the setting to see children engaged in all kinds of valuable activities - building interesting structures with the construction materials, engaging in positive role play in the creative area, sharing books together, absorbed in interesting, educational activities in every other area. These moments are magic. You have a warm glow because you know that all the work and effort you put in is really worthwhile. Your children are happy, secure, stimulated and developing in every direction that children are supposed to develop in and more.

Then somebody vomits. And all hell breaks loose.

The first priority is to deal with the poor child who has been sick. They need comfort, cleaning up and a large bowl or bucket in case they do it again.

The other children in the setting will respond in a variety of ways. Some are fascinated and come to study the sick patch (or patches), the more dedicated grabbing a magnifying glass on the way so they can investigate in detail. Others just scream and run away to spread the word, which means that every other child in the setting will quickly come rushing over to see what has happened.

While one member of staff is trying to clean up the sick child and comfort them even if it means cuddling a child with bits of (now) cold sick all down their front, other staff are busy trying to put a chair or a plastic hoop and some sawdust, over the sick patch, while calmly telling other children to stay away from the area.

This never works. It is absolutely guaranteed that the only two children in the setting who are still unaware that someone has been sick will choose this moment to come skipping hand-in –hand round the corner and slide straight through the sick patch.

For those new to working with young children there are many different types of sick. The official educational classifications for these are:

(1)The Walking Sick. These children wander round vomiting over everyone and everything in their way. They are not usually bothered about being sick and just pump it out regularly every two or three steps, covering the entire setting.

(2)The Olympic Sick. These children are able to project their sick over large areas , much like discus or javelin throwers. No-one is quite sure how far it will reach so that even an experienced practitioner who sees them actually vomiting will have to dash around with a bowl trying to estimate the distance so they can catch the bulk of the ejection.

(3) The I’m OK Now Sick. These children quickly recover, their colour returns and you seriously wonder if you were being too fussy by phoning their parents and after a reasonable amount of time you let them go back to whatever they were previously doing. Then of course they are sick again.

(4) The Expensive Sick. These children will only throw up over new, costly materials and equipment which will then need replacing. Most settings reserve 50% of their budget for this contingency (the other 50% being used to replace items which children have bled and/or weed on).

(5) The Pretender. This is the child who says they feel sick. A member of staff spends hours sitting with them with a bowl close by. Then, towards the end of the session, the child will finally declare that they feel fine and toddle off to happily munch through 17 biscuits.

Over the years I have spent working with young children I have experienced every conceivable type of sick and it now makes me feel queasy just writing about it. In fact I must stop now - sorry, I think I’m gonna be... euggghhhh....

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