Your child is lying on the couch sick and home from school, when suddenly you find her laughing along to her favorite TV show. Have you just been duped?
Faking sick as a way to skip school can be considered just normal kid behavior until the act becomes a common one. If you notice your child wanting to stay home from school more often, there could be more behind excessive absences than just an upset stomach.
Are they really sick?
“If you can rule out that they don’t have a fever or are coming down with the flu, it could be because they are nervous about change or being separated from the parents, even if it’s only for a short time,” says Jackie Meyers, a licensed professional counselor in southeast Michigan. “It’s a big transition for them.”
Kids have anxieties just as adults do, but tend to manifest psychological symptoms in a physical way. Meyers says this is more commonly seen in younger children.
“Kids don’t have the insight to say, ‘I’m feeling anxious today.'” Meyers suggests the best way to identify this is by talking to your children about their school experiences and normalizing the feeling that it’s OK to be nervous and scared. Talk to them about what big events are coming up and see if you can narrow it down to a specific cause.
What’s fueling the problem
Meyers says that with older kids, it’s usually anxiety related to something going on in their social world.
Of students in grades 6-10, some 30 percent are affected by bullying. Faking sick becomes an avoidance strategy to provide relief from taunting.
“If they are used to going (to school) and then all of a sudden they don’t want to go, it could most definitely be a bully or someone teasing them,” Meyers says. She urges parents to encourage kids to tell a teacher as soon as there is a problem, because many kids won’t speak up in fear of being labeled a tattletale.
If the skipping won’t stop
What should you do if your child keeps skipping?
After having conversations with your child, Meyer suggests scheduling a doctor’s appointment for a physical, which can “give the parent peace of mind that it is something physical and not psychological.” Plus, kids that are faking may stop once they hear that dreaded “d” word.
Also, communicate frequently with your child’s teacher for updates and feedback. If the behavior persists, a school social worker or psychologist might be needed for intervention.
“The number one thing is to have dialogue with your kids and let them know it’s OK to feel the way they feel,” says Meyers.
This article was originally published in November 2011 and has been updated.