Helping kids with IBS go back to school

As millions of children around the U.S. return to school, many parents worry about the logistics behind their schooling. How will my child get to school? What supplies do I have to buy? Who is picking them up after school?

Other parents, however, worry about their child’s health conditions. Children’s Hospital of Boston estimates somewhere between 10-15% of kids will have IBS at some point in their childhood. That likely means that there could be at least one child in every classroom that will experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Belly pain that keeps coming back

  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation

  • Upset stomach (nausea)

  • Feeling dizzy

  • Loss of appetite

  • Swelling (bloating) and gas

  • Cramping

  • Needing to have a bowel movement right away

In June, IBS Life detailed some of the underlying reasons behind childhood IBS, such as anxiety, depression, and stress, as well as parental punishment and even over-protection. To add to the problem, some children may not be able to communicate their symptoms properly. For example, a child may say his or her tummy hurts, but parents may not know if the symptom is related to IBS or something else.

As discussed earlier, stress can trigger a child’s IBS. Going back to school often means a change in routines, homework, and peer pressure. If their IBS symptoms are related to anxiety, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following tips to help ease children’s back to school. They suggest that parents:

  • Make sure the child has a daily, predictable routine, with regular times for healthy meals, naps, and night sleep at home.

  • Connect with other parents who have children in the same school and can provide information and make them more comfortable.

  • Try to stay calm and reassure children during the transition—using a calm voice, with a relaxed face and body to let their kids know that they are safe and protected.

  • Talk with about what to expect and help anxious children with strategies to manage stress and cope with worries.

Children are resilient and will develop supporting relationships with their teachers and new classmates more quickly than expected. Trusting their resilience can help parents lose some of the stress that they could have otherwise passed on to their child.

As the aforementioned IBS Life article also suggests, a healthy family life also can help kids once they are home. Homework is important, but so is physical activity and downtime. Doing certain activities together, like playing basketball or having dinner together, can reassure children they have the support of their parents. Preparing IBS-friendly foods for dinner certainly helps – and IBS Life has plenty of good recipes on that front! This preparation can extend to the lunches that children have in school.

Looking out for symptoms of a child with IBS is critical. A Columbia University study suggests that unchecked GI symptoms in children “could be a red flag for future emotional health problems.” Talking to children’s pediatrician can help address these concerns before they become a bigger problem.