When your child complains of a stomach ache, he/she may have anxiety. They are not lying or wanting attention. It is the anxiety they are facing that is manifesting through their body, right in their stomach.
Anxiety is not something we associate with children. And that’s because they don’t express this emotion like adults do. Most children are unable to verbally express themselves when they are anxious. Instead, they may say something like, “My stomach hurts.”
If your child is saying, “Mummy, my tummy hurts” a little too often and you’ve ruled out real stomach issues, it could mean he/she suffers from anxiety.
The real reason why it hurts
They call the stomach the second brain because it is where the enteric nervous system, or intrinsic nervous system, is.
It is part of the autonomic nervous system which consists of neurons that controls the gastrointestinal tract. Often, it is capable of acting independently of the nervous systems in the body.
In other words, when a child is overcome by anxiety, it’s highly likely his or her stomach really hurts.
When the anxiety causes the stomach to ache, it is a cycle which will repeat as the ache causes more anxiety.
One study discovered that 51 percent of people surveyed who experienced stomach pains as children ended up with some type of anxiety disorder sometime in their lives.
What’s important to know is that when your child is saying that their stomach hurts (and you’ve ruled our medical reasons), they are not lying or creating a scene for attention. It is the anxiety they are facing that is manifesting through their body, right in their stomach.
Some kids might say they have a stomach ache just before going to school. They are going through separation anxiety and do not want to be away from you.
Many children have anxiety at night just before bedtime. It intensifies because the room may be dark, there are no distractions and no one is around.
As parents, we can help our children conquer anxiety and remind them that their stomach is alright – that they are just anxious and worried.
So does your child have anxiety?
These are some ways you can help your child to manage anxiety.
- Help him learn to recognize it
The best way to help kids overcome anxiety isn’t to try to remove stressors that trigger it. Teach him to learn to tolerate the anxiety and function as well as he can. The anxiety will decrease over time.
- Express positive and realistic expectations
Tell him that the fear isn’t real. Express confidence that he will be okay and as he faces his fears, the anxiety will reduce.
- Respect his feelings
Acknowledge what he is feeling and reassure him that it’s going to be okay. If he fears needles and needs a shot at the clinic, tell him that you understand that he’s scared, but you will be right by his side.
- Don’t ask leading questions
Asking “Are you anxious about the exam? Are you worried about the concert?” will magnify the anxiety. Avoid doing this.
- Model healthy ways to deal with anxiety
As adults, we too go through anxious moments. Show your child how you cope with it and model the right behavior. Let him hear or see you managing it calmly, tolerating it and feeling good about getting through it.