How to Deal With a Kid Who is Pretending to Be Sick

Children might pretend they are sick so that they can avoid certain activities such as going to school or doing a chore. How to deal with such behavior depends on a number of factors including the age of your child and the reason he is faking an illness. Consult a therapist or child behavior expert for specific treatment recommendations.

A father talking to his son on a bed. (Image: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images)

Malingering vs. Factitious Disorder

Malingering is a term that psychiatrists and doctors use when a patient is pretending to be sick. Usually, when a child malingers, she knows she is faking and has a reason for the deception, such as to get out of school or some other event. However, factitious disorder is a clinical mental disorder wherein the sole reason for pretending to be sick is to receive medical treatment or attention. This disorder is rarely diagnosed in young children, though illness falsification in youth can lead to adult factitious disorders.

Causes

There are many potential reasons that your child will pretend to be sick. Determining the cause will help you deal with the behavior. Talk to your child to figure out if there are any underlying issues. Children may fake an illness for serious reasons, such as anxiety, school bullying or having learning disabilities. However, many children also go through a stage where they enjoy the additional attention that comes with being sick even though there is no serious problem.

Treatment

How to deal with your child's pretend illness will vary depending on any underlying issue. Consult with your pediatrician to rule out any real medical conditions. Do not provide extra attention to your child when he is pretending to be sick. Try to ignore the situation and your child will likely get bored with the act. Encourage your child to continue with homework and housework despite his "illness." Provide positive reinforcements and rewards for days when he doesn't fake being sick by taking him to the movies or other fun activities.

Precautions

Consult with your pediatrician if you believe there might be another problem. Your doctor can talk to your child or recommend a child therapist to help determine the problem. If your child is chronically faking illness to get out of going to school, talk to her teacher to see if there is an issue at school. It is normal for kids to pretend to be sick occasionally, but if the malingering becomes a habit, there is likely another issue.

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