Can You Spot a Flu Faker?

When your child has flu symptoms, it’s best if he or she stays home from school to feel better and avoid spreading the virus to classmates. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell when your child is sick—especially if he or she has a talent for faking it. Kids may fake illness for a variety of reasons from stress at school to simple laziness and rebelliousness, so you should be somewhat discerning when your child comes to you in the morning complaining of flu like symptoms. During cold and flu season this winter, brush up on the following strategies to improve your ability to spot a flu faker:

Align Behaviors with Described Symptoms

Sometimes it’s easy to know when your child is faking an illness, because he or she will behave normally but continue to complain about alleged symptoms. If, for example, your child says he has a stomach ache but scarfs down breakfast without problems, it’s likely that the illness is fabricated. When it comes to the flu, there are a few characteristic symptoms to look out for that will indicate that a day off school might be the right choice. Fever, chills, congestion, coughing, headache, and body aches are all common of the flu, but some of these symptoms might be easier to fake than others. Here’s a look at some questions to ask if you’re not sure whether your child is really sick with the flu.

Is your child eating breakfast?

Especially when your child first becomes sick, he or she may not have much of an appetite. If your child is skipping breakfast while complaining of other symptoms, it may be likely that the flu is the cause.

Does your child’s cough sound productive?

Children learn quickly that a cough can make them sound sick, but you should listen carefully when your child coughs to assess whether it’s a real symptom. Coughing caused by a flu bug will sound like it is coming from deep within the chest, often accompanied by phlegm. This type of cough is difficult if not impossible to produce on command, so listen carefully when your child starts coughing.

Has your child gotten out of bed?

Flu can cause achiness and malaise that will keep your child confined to bed. If he or she has not gotten up on time and complains of feeling sick, it’s likely the real thing.

Keep a Thermometer Handy

Another symptom to look for that’s almost impossible to fake is a fever. Not all flu sufferers will run a fever, but it is a common symptom. To check for a fever, don’t feel your child’s face or forehead—reach directly for the thermometer instead to get an accurate reading.

Know What’s on Your Child’s Schedule

Bad timing can occur, but you might be warier of flu complaints if your child has a big test on the schedule or an essay to turn in. Staying involved with your child’s school schedule and knowing about big assignments that are coming due can help you recognize when a flu may seem like a handy excuse to get out of schoolwork.

Pay Attention to Repeated Missed Days

It’s normal for kids to try faking a flu once or twice in their school careers, but making a consistent habit of it can point to other problems. If your child is frequently faking an illness, there may be a source of stress at school, such as a bully, that your child is trying to avoid.

When your child is sick and needs to stay home from school, help him or her to feel better faster by requesting a MeMD exam. We can provide pediatric visits over the web with a parent present, so you can get the medicine and medical advice you need to help your child feel well again.