Is Your Kid Faking it?

We’ve all been there. The alarm goes off and you reluctantly crawl out of bed to get the morning routine in gear. You open little Petunia’s  door with your typical cheery wake-up call and are greeted by an anguished moan. You continue the AM drill and poke your head in a few minutes later to find your girl still buried under a mound of covers with no sign of progress.

“Mommy, I don’t feel good”. I can’t go to school today.”

Oh, no. Crisis time. You’re in the midst of a big project at work and can ill-afford to stay home with a sick kid. Dad’s already on his way out the door to a breakfast meeting — no help there. Please! Not today. She seemed fine last night … hmmm, she seemed fine last night. So is she really sick, or is she faking it?

Here are a few clues to help you size up the medical evidence.

  • Consider the symptoms. Are there objective signs of illness? Common symptoms of flu include fever (over 100 F), sore throat, vomiting, cough, body aches, loss of appetite and severe fatigue. Take a temp. Look at the tonsils (sick ones will look like raw burger meat). Offer a favorite breakfast food. A kid who’s sick won’t be tempted.
  • Look for suspicious ‘faking it’ clues. Kids who are putting it on can’t sustain the act very long. They may be moaning and groaning one minute and happily texting away the next. Their complaints will seem out of proportion to the visible signs that they’re sick.
  • Sick kids don’t seem otherwise normal. If they’re truly sick, kiddos are exhausted and can’t focus well on TV or video games. So if yours is wide awake through the first 3 seasons of The Simpson’s complete DVD set, he may be putting one over on you. If he tells you he’s hungry, be very suspicious.
  • Traveling symptoms. Did the headache become a sore throat, then migrate down to a stomach ache? This should be a red flag. It’s not fool-proof, because as illnesses blossom new symptoms can develop, but it’s unusual for the initial ones to disappear entirely.
  • What’s going on? Does your kiddo have a reason to want to stay home? Was homework left undone? Is there a test looming? A problem with friends or bullies? Do some detective work to try and figure out if there’s something other than illness keeping her in bed.
  • Are you a ‘faking it’ enabler? Do you tend to indulge every twinge and ache? Are you a sucker for the “Mommy, I don’t feel good” line? Sometimes kids learn to focus on physical symptoms to get what they want because they know it will work. Try ignoring it for awhile and it may just go away.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that you send a sick kid to school or brush off signs of illness that deserve attention. If your gut tells you your kid is sick, trust it and call the pediatrician. But if your mommy radar isn’t buying it, you’re probably right. Tell your little darling to get up and get dressed and see how she feels, and mean it. If she makes it to breakfast send her off to school with instructions to head to the nurse’s office if things get worse. Then cross your fingers and hope for the best.

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.

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One response to “Is Your Kid Faking it?”

  1. Dr Efrat Schorr

    I learned a great strategy from my mother, who raised 6 children to be successful and independent adults! When we were sick she would be very caring and make us hot cocoa, let us watch tv, and all the warm and fuzzy good things. When she thought we were faking, we would have to stay in bed all day. You can bet that didn’t happen too often!
    Dr Efrat Schorr

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