One of the most common symptoms of anxiety in children and adolescents is stomach aches. If you are noticing that your child is complaining of more stomach aches when it is time for school, social outings, or extracurricular activities it’s a good indication of anxiety. Talking to them about what might be making them nervous is not a bad idea. Sometimes you can identify a specific concern (i.e., peers being mean, concern of messing up on a presentation) and other times you won’t. Often parents are met with an “I don’t know. My stomach just hurts.” This can leave parents feeling quite stuck. There are some definite “do’s & don’ts” when it comes to this situation.
- Validate/ normalize their anxiety. It’s okay to be anxious and just having that validated can be helpful to your child.
- Ask your child if there is anything you can do to help and then maybe offer a couple suggestions.
- Remind them that although they are feeling anxious, they still have to (fill in the blank: go to school, talk to their friends).
- Model how to manage anxiety (share when you are feeling anxious with your child and what you do to help).
- Remind them of other times they were able to push through their anxiety and how that turned out.
- Invalidate their experience. (i.e., “You have nothing to be worried about. You are fine.”)
- Let them quit something right away or stay home multiple days. This only teaches them an unhelpful lesson that they cannot manage or deal with the anxiety.
- Continuously force them to do an unnecessary task (i.e., play a certain sport) if they are telling you they don’t like it. It may be a nice opportunity to explore with your child what he/she does enjoy.
- Overly reward day-to-day behaviors (i.e., If you just go to school, I will buy you ice cream). This can be a slippery slope. You can reward with things that make sense to the behavior (extra play-time if child goes to school and finishes homework) and give natural consequences (no play-date if homework is not done).
What you can say to help your anxious child:
- It’s okay to be feeling nervous. I get nervous too sometimes.
- I know your stomach really hurts right now, and over time those anxious feelings tend to get better.
- It makes sense that you are feeling nervous. Trying new things can be a little scary at first. What can I do to help you feel more comfortable?
- You know what helps me when I am feeling nervous? (Then, share a coping skill).
- I’m really proud of you for trying.