Middle School

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How to Help With Irregularity Issues in Older Children

Abdominal Pain

RULE OF THUMB: Pay close attention.

It turns out that the constant tummy aches that children aged eight to 12 claim to experience aren’t necessarily a figment of their imagination.
“It’s a pain pattern about one out of six kids get,” says Dr. Howard. He equates the aches with the gripe in babies, menstrual cramps in teenage girls and backaches in adults. It’s a pain pattern that occurs commonly and normally.

What to watch for: The recurrent pain that causes a child to moan and groan is usually harmless, but the discomfort is real. “Recurrent abdominal pain tends to be around the belly button, any time of day. Nothing makes it worse and nothing makes it better. It’s like a headache in your tummy.” When it appears in younger children, it can be particularly tough for a parent to deal with. “It also can be difficult to define if the child is not able to verbalize,” says Dr. Jacobson. “If they have symptoms, but it’s not associated with clinical consequences, it will probably not be clinically significant.”

First steps: Comfort. Clinically there’s not much you can do. You treat it with “understanding and watchful waiting,” says Dr. Howard. “It is real pain just like any other pain.”

Seek help: If you suspect a connection between the pain and an activity or bodily function (eating, urinating, bowel movements), see a doctor, particularly if it seems related to poor weight gain or growth. Waking up in the middle of the night with the pain is also unusual for the “tummy headache,” notes Dr. Howard. The fact that it is recurrent on its own, however, doesn’t mean there’s a bigger problem. Sudden pain, rather than recurrent ache, is a different story. “If it’s a pain that comes on suddenly, we have to watch that fairly carefully.”


Sometimes kids become too old to confide in a parent. Maybe they’re embarrassed about talking about their bodies and their bathroom habits. Or maybe you’ve got a full plate and aren’t as aware of their bathroom breaks as you were when they were babies. Here are a few things to watch for:
1. Frequent trips to the toilet

2. Spending long periods of time in the bathroom

3. Night waking

4. Constant discomfort (fidgets and wiggles)

aboutkidshealth.ca – The Hospital for Sick Children’s Health Site: quick answers to common questions.
kidstummies.com – Dr. Howard’s site for kids with stomach ailments big and small.

Published March 2010

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