Is Your Child Sick -- or Faking It?

Maybe your son suddenly developed a stomachache on the day of the big quiz. Or your daughter has a mysterious cough after playing back-to-back soccer games yesterday. For whatever reason, you're not sure if your child is really sick -- or just sick of school. In my experience as a school nurse, I've found that there are a few ways you can tell the difference. Be on the lookout for these telltale signs for when a child is faking sick:

  • Inconsistent complaints. If your daughter complains of a stuffy nose one minute, followed by a stomachache and then a headache the next, it may be a sign she's pretending.
  • Disappearing symptoms. In my office, I have a rule that I don't see non-emergency cases for the first hour of school. That's because when kids become engaged with activities and friends, they forget all about being "sick." So take note if you notice that your child's cough vanishes when he's playing with his brother. Kids who are under-the-weather also tend to doze off throughout the day, so be wary if your son seems completely alert while watching television or playing computer games.
  • Sudden recovery. If a child seems fine after you decide to keep her home from school, that's a surefire red flag!

So should you let him stay home? My rule: If a child doesn't have a fever, hasn't vomited or doesn't have any obvious symptoms (such as diarrhea), I would send him to school. But don't discount his complaints: If he keeps mentioning a symptom, like a headache or stuffy nose, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician to rule out any illnesses or other health issues.

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