Stomach aches are one of the most common complaints in my practice. Why do tummy aches plague so many children and adults? And how does a parent help their child?
Parents often don’t know how much their kids suffer. And children think their bodies are normal, for the most part, having nothing to compare to. They’ll put up with a surprising amount of problems if they don’t feel comfortable asking a parent about something. Some parents simply don’t ask or observe, while some hover too closely and create problems where none occur.
WHAT DO YOU DO FIRST?
The first question I ask the child is “Where does it hurt? Can you point to it exactly?”
Responses can vary from the upper chest and throat, all the way to the bladder. Parents are often shocked by this simple revelation! Occasionally kids are already on medications, and frightened parents keep running tests and seeing doctors, convinced that their child has incurable problems.
Assuming the child points to the colon area (they seldom point to the stomach high up in the V where the ribs come together), I want information on diet. My first step? A week’s food diary, with notes on how the tummy felt today, what the stool was like, were they nauseous or gassy, etc. Next step? FOOD FIRST, my favorite motto!
SETTING A GOOD EXAMPLE
I explain to parents that the whole family should change their diet (or at least the Mom’s and the child for now) not singling out just one child. Can you imagine one child being “punished” to eat meats and vegetables, and the parents eating pizza and beer?
Depending on family dynamics, I prefer for the parent who does the most shopping and cooking to change their diet first. Let the family observe the new foods, the new timing of meals (we ate at the TABLE!) and let the parent share happy things about their foods. “I have so much energy when I eat a good breakfast”. “My stomach feels better than it has in years!” And so on.
HOW DO WE ADD NEW FOODS TO THE MENU?
Offer new foods to the family, especially the person with the digestive concerns. Get that gluten and cow’s milk out of there first thing! These are the main foods causing digestive distress in humans, and I find we ALL feel better without them. You can use gluten-free foods for a while if you must, but go grain-free, bean-free, and dairy-free as soon as you can. I do believe that younger kids need milk for a while, but goat milk is preferred to cow, unless you can locate RAW cow’s milk AND they can tolerate it. I find that most people do NOT tolerate milk from cows, as a rule. High quality cheese and butter may be allowed but you’ll have to experiment with this. Once these foods are out and everyone’s feeling better, eliminate eggs for a week or two and see if additional improvement comes.
DOING A MODIFIED FOOD CHALLENGE
Ultimately the question is if you do better ON a food, or OFF a food. It’s individual and it can change over time. Parents — lead the way with new habits and make the new normal for the kids. Children are much better patients than adults when it comes to following a diet – if they feel badly, then feel well, then feel badly again and understand it was the cookie or the ice cream that did it, they generally will not touch that food again! I promise – I’ve seen it many times. Make the connection and the child will handle it, as long as they have help understanding that there’s MILK hidden in these foods, and FLOUR hidden in other foods.
Role play with them on speaking to parents, teachers and friends on asking politely for what they want, and declining foods they don’t want. Build their confidence a little and they’ll make strides in managing their own health.