6 Ways to Tell If Your Child Is Actually Sick or Faking It

Spring may be here, yet cold and flu season are still persisting.  Is your child really fighting or faking these symptoms? Mighty Mommy has 6 tips to help parents take on their little fakers. 

Cheryl Butler
6-minute read
Episode #372

It happens to nearly every parent throughout the school year—waking up to a child who just isn’t feeling well enough to get out of bed and go to school.  It might be a really bad stomach ache.  Or it could be a sore throat where there’s just no way he can swallow comfortably and concentrate on the math and spelling lessons that day. Then there are those sudden body aches that arrive during the night—the ones that usually accompany an oncoming flu or virus.

“Hmm,” you say to yourself, "He was perfectly fine last night when he was racing around like a speedy sports car and never mentioned anything about a stomach issue as he wolfed down two helpings of lasagna and ice cream for dessert!" On the other hand, you really don’t want to take the chance of sticking him on the bus and heading off to your jam-packed day of meetings and appointments in case he really is going to start throwing up the second he gets into school. Though it’s going to wreak havoc on your work schedule, you’re now faced with making the decision on sending him to school with the hopes his stomach will feel much better once he gets there, or keeping him home and letting him rest comfortably on the couch while watching his favorite TV programs.

Sure, our kids are going to need sick days throughout the school year, but what if he’s really not “that sick” and is just looking for a way to stay home? There are reasons that your child will pretend to be sick, so today Mighty Mommy shares strategies on how to cure this potential problem.

Tip #1:  Assess Your Child’s Health

There will be times throughout the school year when kids are truly sick and absolutely should stay home.  When my kids have any of the following, they don’t leave the house!

Fever: If one of my kids is running a fever they are homebound.

Vomiting/diarrhea are also two more symptoms that I never take lightly.

Skin rashes or hives: I always have these checked out if they appear for no reason.

Red eyes that are accompanied by drainage or crusting can be a sign of conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye. When in doubt, see a doctor.

Dare I mention it: head lice or scabies. This is no fun for anyone, and if your child does end up with lice someday, then other families thank you in advance for not sending them back until it’s treated.

Tip #2: Find Out Their Motivation

When one of my kids wakes up unexpectedly too sick to go to school or gets up and eats breakfast and then all of a sudden come down with a sudden stomach ache, I usually get a sense that something more is going on.  After I listen to their symptoms and give them a hug, I delve a bit further into what might be the underlying reason they are not wanting to catch the bus that day.  I start by asking if anything else might be bothering them other than their physical aches and pains.  Often the “illness” may coincide with a certain activity or subject in school that is really giving them the pain.

One such reason that kids pretend to be sick is because they are being bullied. According to the National Education Association more than 160,000 students are missing school each day because they're afraid of getting picked on, taunted, or worse, beaten up.  One of these students could be your child. 

John Wiedenheft, clinical director at Associated Counseling Professionals in Hartford, reminds parents that a child’s behavior seems to indicate there’s something bothering them that might be very difficult to talk about. He advises that parents reach out to older children and teens by saying something like, “Your behavior seems to indicate there’s something that is troubling you. How can I help?”

In fact, one of Wiedenheft's psychology professors stated that you should ignore the child's words and instead watch the behavior. "That advice works especially well in dealing with children" he said.  So if you aren’t quite so sure that your child’s sick symptoms are real or not, tune into how they are behaving to see if something seems off.  If so, address it immediately with a heartfelt one-on-one conversation with your child to see if you can get to the root of the problem.  See Also:  How to Handle Back-To-School Emotions

Tip #3:  Have Rules for a Sick Day

Kids who are truly not feeling well need their rest to recover and get healthy. Laying low in bed for the majority of the day without extra activities and privileges is just what the Dr. ordered. In our house, this means no playing video games, no Netflix or other sources of visual entertainment, no playing on iPods and laptops throughout the day, adhering to a very limited diet, and of course, no going outside, interacting socially with friends during or after school, or doing anything strenuous that could get in the way of their fast healing.  When you’re consistent and stick to your “Sick Day Policy,” every time you child needs to miss a day of school, they will know you mean business and they don’t’ have a “Free Pass” for the day.


About the Author

Cheryl Butler

Cheryl L. Butler is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. Call the Mighty Mommy listener line at 401-284-7575 to ask a parenting question. Your call could be featured on the show!