1. Check Out the Medical Evidence
Common symptoms of flu - and swine flu -- include fever, extreme fatigue, dry cough, and body aches. Cold symptoms are typically milder, including a runny or stuffy nose. Taking the body temperature is a good first step, says JoAnn Rohyans, MD, a pediatrician in private practice who is also an associate professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University College of Medicine, Columbus, and a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Normal body temperature varies, she says. It can be about 97 degrees in the morning and higher later. "Ninety-nine degrees at the end of the day is still normal," she says. Pediatricians generally don't consider a fever significant until temperature rises above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
You can check your child's throat and tonsils if that's the origin of complaints, Rohyans says. But she says parents often think tonsils look awful when they're actually normal. "Tonsils that are sick look like moldy strawberries or raw hamburger," she tells WebMD.
Remember, if there’s any doubt -- especially when potentially serious illnesses like swine flu are a possibility -- call your child’s pediatrician.
2. Look for Telltale 'Faking' Signs
Fake symptoms typically don't have staying power. Be suspicious, Rohyans says, if your teen is coughing her lungs out one moment but then talking nonstop on the phone with friends.
Kids who are truly sick usually doze off while watching TV, she adds. So if your offspring is glued to a TV-watching marathon, wide awake, it could be a sign that he’s faking it.
Vague symptoms and those that move from one body part to the other may be a sign of faking it, says Donna Mazyck, RN, president of the National Association of School Nurses in Silver Spring, Md., and a high school nurse for 15 years. As in: "Oh, my head hurts. Now my stomach hurts." When the complaints move to the foot, be very suspicious, she says. "That's a little bit of a clue." Yet, she says, it's not foolproof, because sometimes symptoms are vague.
3. Get to the Bottom of the Problem -- If There Is One
Once you've decided it's an act, try to figure out why. Although some kids are just feeling lazy, others may have a sense of entitlement, says Rohyans, especially during cold and flu season. "They expect they deserve a few days off because everyone else is sick," she tells WebMD.
But some kids who fake it have more serious underlying problems, not just laziness or mischief. A common reason for faking, says Mazyck, is being bullied at school. Faking becomes a practical avoidance strategy, she says.
Anxiety about a looming test or other challenge is a common reason to fake it. "It could be anxiety or fear, because of a test or some class that is hard for them," Mazyck says.