As a parent, hearing the words “my tummy hurts” strikes fear into the heart similar to that of hearing “Mummy” at 3am in the morning! Bang goes the planned day along with any sign of sleep tonight!
Whilst it is normal to hear the phrase “my tummy hurts” on the odd occasion maybe once or twice a year due to an illness, frequent tummy hurt can be more concerning and cause a parent to start researching why this could be happening and what they can do.
In Yoga we explore two trains of thought which cause pain:
As both are intertwined and connected (both communicate with each other) sending feedback and instruction to protect the body and restore balance, it is important to consider both when exploring pain.
1, Emotional/Physical – Often when we feel uneasy, nervous, scared we think of these as purely emotional responses but they also trigger physical reactions like increased heartrate, faster breathing, rise in temperature and surpression of digestion aka “tummyache”.
Has your child ever complained of tummyache just before school? Is it a really a learnt technique to avoid school or could it be very real pain caused by anxiety? It’s worth us exploring this as a possible cause of regular tummyache.
Notice WHEN the tummyache is triggered, speak to your child about what is happening in other areas of their body (i.e not the tummy – they need to take focus away from the tummy). Place your hand on their heart and feel how the heart is behaving. Note and openly vocalise these findings even if you don’t know what they mean yet, so that they also notice them. The next time you anticipate the same trigger coming are you able to have an open discussion to ask your child how they feel about going to do/doing the thing (before they do it)? You can then discuss introducing useful breathing and mindfulness techniques to help calm the physical and emotional body. Then see if the reaction still occurs and to what extent. Has it changed? Finally, DURING the “tummyache” time, remind your child of the breathing techniques and mindfulness exercises to see if they can help ease the pain in the tummy for them.
You can also use your own positive/re-affirming touch such as a hug (releases serotonin to help relax the body)
Anxiety has the ability to override logical thinking/reasoning so in order to overcome a reaction that has become a habit we need to practice calming techniques that can become complimentary habits.
It’s important to note that children’s anxiety can be amplified if they feel their behaviour is abnormal or displeasing, they don’t know how to deal with the feeling and overcome it so they can feel helpless and upset as well as experiencing emotional and physical pain. It would be VERY useful if you as a parent can relate to feelings of nervousness and tell them a story of how you felt once when **** happened AND how you overcame this so they know that 1, you also experience these feelings (like all humans) and also that 2, overcoming the feeling is absolutely possible.
Children love stories so the more stories you share of people feeling like this and overcoming it the more hope and acceptance you give them.
2, Physical – This refers to physical contributors to tummy pain such as digestive issues.
If your child is experiencing regular tummy aches and their doesn’t appear to be any obvious anxiety present it could be due to:
Sugar or artificial sweeteners (causing inflammation of bowels)
Processed foods (can cause a host of digestive issues)
Lack of sleep (not enough rest to properly digest food)
Not stopping to eat food (to much eating on-the-go, not allowing food to digest)
All of these can be addressed by removing these conditions along with the fllowing to aid digestion as much as possible:
Increasing exercise (to increase metabolism) such as Yoga poses to stimulate blood flow around the body, followed by restoration poses like forward folds to calm and improve digestion.
Standing forward fold
Seated forward fold
Legs up the wall
If you have any experience of regular tummy aches with your child and stories of what has helped we’d love to hear them, feel free to comment below: