You go to rouse your child for another school day, but they say they’re sick. If they don’t have obvious signs of an illness (such as a fever or vomiting), how do you know if they’re really sick or they’re just faking it? Let’s take a look at some clever ways to tell if your child is faking an illness and when you should be more concerned.
Oscar nominee or really sick?
According to Dr. Dyan Hes, pediatrician and medical director of Gramercy Pediatrics, faking sick doesn’t happen as often as your favorite TV shows would have you think — but it definitely does happen. “Most often, this is seen with children who are school-aged,” she tells SheKnows. “Whether it is because of separation anxiety caused by leaving a parent for school or fear of school in general, the problem for us is to find out why it is happening.”
Of course, that’s not to say that your kid isn’t actually ill. Here are some clues that may help you discover if your child is really sick or just faking it.
Energy level & appetite
Hes notes that both of these are an excellent indicator of a child’s health, and if they’re not on par with their usual levels, especially once you’ve allowed them to stay at home, then they probably really aren’t feeling well.
For kids who tend to have recurring illnesses, do the symptoms pop up on a Saturday morning when you have a fun day planned or on Sunday night before school starts back up for the week or on a Tuesday morning before your child has a big test? What about after school before sports practice? “These answers help me detect if there is a pattern,” Hes notes. “It takes time and patience to tease out an answer sometimes.”
Abdominal pain they can function through
Tummy pain is a common complaint for the school-age crowd. However, there’s a way you can tell it may not be a sign of illness. “If your child is complaining of abdominal pain, but if they are able to eat and drink without problems, can jump up and down without pain and you can press on their abdomen without any pain, then these are all reassuring signs that there is not something seriously wrong,” Dr. Devon Carr, pediatrician at Reddy Medical Group, tells SheKnows.
Headaches they can function through
Additionally, headaches are also common complaints parents hear and then must decide if their child is too sick to go to school. “If your child has a headache but does not have a fever, stiff neck or any pain with bright lights or loud noises, then these are all reassuring signs that there is not something seriously wrong,” says Carr.
How they act when you’re not looking
While it can be hard to sneak up on your kid, Carr says that checking out how they act when you’re not directly staring at them may be the only clue you need. “Try to observe your child when they don’t know you’re looking. Their symptoms are less likely to be real if they only act like they are sick when you are watching,” he explains.
Faking? Don’t ignore it
Dr. Kimberly Williams, a pediatric neuropsychologist and clinical psychologist, says that if your child is faking an illness repeatedly, don’t ignore it and pack them off to school without further investigation. “Children who do not want to go to school may really have some kind of learning issue and feel anxious, may be trying to avoid bullying or may have some other significant social issue, like complicated interactions with a crush or peer pressure,” she tells SheKnows.
If your child seems to claim they’re sick repeatedly (but they’re not actually sick), there are a few warning signs Williams suggests looking for that should prompt evaluation:
- Homework avoidance
- Feeling fine on Friday and Saturday, but sick on Sunday evening
- More reluctant on Monday mornings
- Difficulty eating breakfast, low appetite in the morning
- Frequent visits to the school nurse with minor complaints (head hurts, stomach aches)
- Frequent visits to the bathroom during classroom time
- Distress while texting or during FaceTime
She suggests that if these red flags are present, it’s important not to react negatively, but instead, take some time to delve into the situation with your child (and/or the school) to see if there is an academic or social reason for faking an illness. Also, she notes that you can also seek an evaluation with your child’s doctor or a child psychologist to see if there is a medical or emotional reason for the situation.
Trust your gut
Some kids are excellent actors, but there are a few clues that will help you determine whether they’re really sick or not (and that parental gut can also help you in this matter). Don’t hesitate, though, to further investigate if your child repeatedly seems to be faking an illness. For one thing, they may actually have something going on that doesn’t show up on a thermometer, and for another, it can indicate stress or even bullying. Either way, once you investigate, you and your care provider can develop a plan to get your child on the road to good health (and proper school attendance).