Q. How can you tell whether a child is really sick if there is nothing obviously wrong, or if he just doesn't want to go to school?

A. Miss Manners is not in the medical business, so you will have to allow her to deal only with the etiquette aspects of the situation, and turn the rest over to a doctor.

It is well-known that hurt tummies are epidemic on weekdays. It is rude to question the veracity of a child, and risky because if he really does turn out to be ill, you will feel pretty terrible yourself for having done so.The procedure, then, is to treat him with such care that only a person who isn't up to snuff can bear it. Serve only safe and uninteresting meals, propose appropriate trips to the doctor's, speak of medicines and unspeakable remedies, and prescribe rest for the mind as well as for the body, including canceling the closest desirable engagement.

This generally discourages the malingerers. However, if the child really turns out to be sick, the procedure must be reversed, and attempts made to tempt him with interesting food, amuse him, make the remedies palatable, and speak happily of what fun he will have as soon as he feels better.

If you find this contradictory, allow Miss Manners to remind you that medicine is an art not a science, and the true test for any cure is whether it works.