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Why some kids get stomachaches before school

By Julie Rawe

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Some kids rarely get stomachaches. For others, it’s a common occurrence — especially on school days. They often wake up with pain that’s bad enough to make them want to stay home or not attend class. 

What’s causing their frequent stomach problems? It might be something physical, like constipation or lactose intolerance. But stomachaches can also be caused by stress. 

Doctors sometimes call this type of stomachache “psychosomatic” because it’s triggered by thoughts. While the cause isn’t physical, the pain is real. (Migraines are also often caused by stress.)

Stress doesn’t only cause pain — it can also affect our tolerance for pain. For example, a gas bubble might not bother us much when we’re happy and well-rested. But it might be very uncomfortable when we’re tired and stressed.

Frequent stomachaches or visits to the school nurse can sometimes be a sign that kids are struggling in school. The challenges may be academic or social.

No matter what the cause, starting a dialogue is a good first step to find out what’s going on.

Dive deeper

How to talk with kids about stomachaches

If you’re a parent or caregiver, it’s important to talk with your child about the stomachaches to find out what’s going on. Even if you think your child is “faking it,” something real is happening that needs to be addressed. It might be trouble with reading or other difficulties with schoolwork. Or maybe it’s social anxiety related to bullying.

Try these tips to get kids to talk about school . And find out how to respond when kids say they don’t want to go to school .

It’s also important to talk about the snowball effect. Staying home might seem like a good idea in the short term, but help your child understand why missing school today can make it harder to catch up tomorrow.

Next steps

The best way to help with stomachaches (and other problems) is to know what triggers them. You can learn a lot by observing kids and looking for patterns in their behavior. When do the stomachaches happen? What else is going on at those times? 

This is valuable information you can share with others to find solutions. 

Get tips for observing kids and looking for patterns . Talk with a health care professional about what you’re seeing. Whatever the cause, they can help figure out the best way to approach it.

Families and teachers can also share what they’re seeing and work together to make it easier for kids to deal with stress and not miss school.

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