Check your child's temperature to rule out fever.

How to Deal With a Kid Pretending to Be Sick

by Molly Thompson

When you're running around like crazy, trying to get ready for work in the morning, the last thing you want to hear are those dreaded words, "Mommy, I don't feel good." After your mom-radar and the thermometer have ruled out an actual illness, you're stuck trying to decide what to do with your "pretend-sick" kiddo. Before you completely rearrange your schedule for the day, you'll have to to figure out what's really going on with your little actor. Is he worried about school or a mean classmate? Or maybe he just wants some one-on-one time with Mom or Dad and knows this is one way to get you to stay home.

Breathe. Count to ten if you have to. Then go check on your child to find out if he's actually sick. Ask him what hurts, take his temperature to check for fever and evaluate his "symptoms." Even if you decide he isn't really sick at all, don't just brush off his complaints. Something is bugging him, whether it's worry about a preschool bully or a teacher who was "mean" to him, or maybe he just wants to stay home with you today.

Tell your child you will always take care of him when he's really sick, but that he isn't running a fever and doesn't seem sick to you. Remind your child gently that it's not okay to fake being sick, because then it's harder for people to know if he's telling the truth on those days when he really is sick. If your child is familiar with the story about the boy who cried wolf, refer to it. If he isn't, this might be a good time to introduce him to it.

Stay home with your child if he insists he really is sick -- once. In most cases, the mystery illness clears up surprisingly fast once he realizes you're both home for the day, so the secret is to teach him that staying home is no fun at all. Spend a few minutes getting him some water and settled into bed, then go to another room and do something else. Before you go, tell him that, since he's sick, the best thing is to stay in his bed and sleep or rest for the day. He can read a book if he wants to, but television, videos and computer use are out. Tell him you'll check on him from time to time but don't want to interrupt his rest. Meals should be really boring and bland -- no lunchtime favorites if you're pretend-sick.

Talk to your child's teacher or the school counselor if you can't get to the root of his problem, particularly if the faking is repeated. You may also want to consult your child's doctor, both to rule out any real physical problem and to determine whether professional counseling is needed.


  • Just like for adults, an occasional "mental health day" can be okay, and it's fine to spend a little "quality time" snuggling, reading or playing games together. But in general, kids need to learn that pretending to be sick is not okay.

About the Author

As a national security analyst for the U.S. government, Molly Thompson wrote extensively for classified USG publications. Thompson established and runs a strategic analysis company, is a professional genealogist and participates in numerous community organizations.Thompson holds degrees from Wellesley and Georgetown in psychology, political science and international relations.

Photo Credits

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