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Sharp Health News

Is my kid really sick or just faking it?

Oct. 25, 2017

Is my kid really sick or just faking it?

Kids are natural-born complainers. If they’re not hungry, they’re tired. If they’re not tired, they’re bored. And if the sun’s out and their homework’s not done, they’re way too sick for school.

Kids faking illness is nothing new. It’s been around since, well, before you were a kid faking illness. But sometimes their complaints can be hard to decipher, and no parent wants to miss something serious. So how do you know when a child’s whining is for real?

“Telltale signs would be if their complaints don’t match their symptoms,” says Dr. Ahmad Bailony, a board-certified pediatrician affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. “Is your child coughing right before school, but cough-free the rest of the day? Are they complaining of abdominal pain, but eating and drinking with no concerns?”

Most parents rely on intuition when reading their child. But Dr. Bailony sees many struggle with these four common, Ferris Bueller-worthy antics:

1. “I have a stomachache.”
A true stomachache will present with a poor appetite, diarrhea, vomiting or constipation. If none of these present, ask your child for more details to get to the root of the problem.

2. “I have a headache.”
Headaches are tough to confirm, as they rarely pair with physical findings. However, if your child complains of blurry vision or eye pain, it could be a migraine and require rest. If your child has a stiff neck with a headache and fever, see a doctor right away to rule out meningitis. Also check with your child’s doctor if the headache is paired with vomiting.

3. “My (body part) hurts.”
Check the body part in question. Is it tender to the touch? Is there redness or swelling? If so, consider this complaint legitimate. Also pay attention to fever, or anything else that seems out of the ordinary.

4. “I feel like I’m going to throw up.”
A child experiencing true nausea will usually end up vomiting. But temporary nausea can be brought on by lots of things — like eating too many sweets or taking a long car ride. If your child continues to complain of nausea without vomiting, contact their doctor.

The real deal
Intuition aside, there are some ailments a parent should never ignore. Dr. Bailony says parents should call a doctor immediately if their child experiences:

  • Fever
    A temperature of 100° F or higher should be taken seriously. At most schools, children must be fever-free for 24 hours, without the use of medicine, before returning to school.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
    If these symptoms happen once, simply monitor your child for the rest of the day. If vomiting or diarrhea happens twice in one day, keep them home and check in with their doctor.
  • Skin rashes
    If your child’s rash presents with pus or fluid, they should be seen by a doctor before returning to school. If the rash pairs with a fever, it could be a sign of a contagious disease, such as measles or chickenpox.
  • Red eyes
    There are many things that can cause your child’s eyes to be irritated, such as allergies or fatigue. But if accompanied by drainage or crusting, it could be a sign of pink eye (conjunctivitis). When in doubt, contact your child’s doctor.
  • Head lice or scabies
    Scabies (caused by mites) and head lice (caused by parasites) require professional attention. Look out for a rash or blisters around the hands or feet, or itchiness of the scalp.

Diagnosis: They’re faking
So what happens when the diagnosis is tried-and-true faking it?

To start, talk to your child about why they don’t want to go school. They could be feeling overwhelmed with an assignment, or struggling with a classmate. “Have a heart-to-heart,” says Dr. Bailony. “Show them you are on their side. Kids want to feel supported and cared for, and keeping the communication going will help you see the bigger picture.”

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Bailony for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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