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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Is Your Kid Sick or Just Faking It?

Cold and flu season is upon us, but is your child really sick? 4 tips for suspicious parents.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Your school-aged child wakes up sniffling, coughing, and moaning that he just doesn't feel well enough to go to school. Could it be a cold? The flu? Or, even the dreaded swine flu? As a parent, how are you supposed to respond?
Sometimes, it's clear that your child has cold symptoms or flu symptoms and needs to be taken to the doctor. Other times, illness in kids is not so easy to figure out. Your child may not look so sick to you. So before you heat up the chicken soup and call your boss, you might want to consider the possibility that something other than a virus has invaded your home.

Yes, we're talking deception. Faking it. Playing hooky, a la Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Just as Matthew Broderick, the lead actor in the hit 1986 movie, decided to give himself a glorious day off (including a spin around Chicago in a "borrowed" Ferrari), there is the possibility your child is faking it -- for attention, the thrill of it, or a zillion other reasons.

Swine Flu Outbreak: Get the Facts

Swine Flu Slideshow

Learn more about the H1N1 swine flu and see what you can do to stay healthy.

View the slideshow.

At some point during their school days, up to 10% of kids try to dupe their parents into letting them stay home by feigning illness, experts say. Sometimes, the guise is relatively innocent; but sometimes it masks serious problems, such as anxiety, depression, or their wish to avoid a bully at school.

Given the anxiety many parents feel when their children are sick -- especially since the swine flu outbreaks -- how can you figure out which symptoms are real and which aren’t? WebMD asked three experts who've seen their share of faking -- a pediatrician, a child and adolescent psychologist, and a former school nurse -- to clue us in on how clueless parents can decide: Does your baby need medical attention, chicken soup, or marching orders to get to school? Of course, if your child looks and acts truly sick, it's time to call the doctor or take them to urgent care.

But if you have your doubts and are trying to decide if the illness is really called "don't-want-to-go-to-school-itis," here are our experts' four best tips, short of hooking up a lie detector:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4

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