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Thursday, 22 March 2001

My Eight-Year-Old Daughter Gets Morning Stomach Aches

Written by  Silvia Silberman, MA

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QMy eight-year-old daughter doesn't want to go to school. For the past few months, she has said she doesn't feel well a couple of times a week and I let her stay home. She complains of stomach aches but the doctor says there's nothing wrong. Now she's fallen behind and has missed a lot. She likes her teacher and has friends. I don't know if this means the school isn't good or there are other problems. What do you suggest?

AYou may think of a tummy ache or other body pain as a way of expressing pain, preoccupation or anxiety that is otherwise difficult to express. Eight-year-olds' preoccupations usually belong to one of three realms:

  1. The ability to learn --It would be appropriate to ask the teacher whether your daughter is learning as expected. You might also ask your daughter whether she thinks she is doing well or has difficulties in classroom learning.

  2. The social realm -- Is your daughter unhappy with her position in her peer group? Does she feel others are better heard, acknowledged or given more attention? Perhaps the teacher could arrange for her to work with children with whom she'd like more contact. Or it may be necessary to acknowledge that some children are more in the center and that is disappointing but that's the way it is.

  3. The family -- Does she feel heard by her parents? Maybe she is saying something to her parents that they can't hear? Does she feel left out by a parent's relationship with an older child or with a friend? Somewhere there may be tension that is going unacknowledged.

These things may be difficult for a child to speak about and so physical symptoms may appear. Don't force her to talk, but give her an opening. Bring it up and let her know you can talk about it if she's willing to. The knowledge that you're available to talk may make things easier.

Sometimes, a child wants to stay home to take care of a situation or a parent. Sometimes you can't really find out what isn't working in a normal parent-child dialogue. You need to give it time to let the child come to grips with whatever the situation is. But if it takes too long, you may want to seek professional help.

Last modified on Sunday, 03 April 2011 09:05
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Silvia Silberman, MA

Silvia Silberman:, MA, is a senior school psychologist, psychotherapist and organizational consultant.

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