My darling six-year-old is in kindergarten this year. Fingers crossed: she seems relatively content to listen to her teachers, make new friends, and do her work.
I’ve heard tales of woe and joy from other parents about their little ones’ pivotal first year in school. In fact, I listened to enough to be quite nervous as we started our adorable journey in the Fall of 2021. However, I feel like our family has landed somewhere in the “We’re making it, but don’t uncross those fingers, yet” zone.
The reason I’m trying to cross my toes for extra luck during these last few months comes down to the appearance of the dreaded “tummy ache.” The futility and frustration caused by this insidious malady is perfectly relatable for any parent who has engaged in the 100-questions game to determine the source/severity of their child’s discomfort. Of course, we all know that the tummy ache can be as simple as eating something strange, but it could also be a sign of trouble brewing in more places than our childrens’ guts.
If the nurse knows your child’s name, favorite band-aid color, and opinion on snacks, you may see a problem forming. But what kind of problem? So here I sit, fretting from one possibility to the next as my daughter entertains the nurse with another round of tummy complaints and her favorite Power Rangers commentary.
What can be causing the issue? I don’t know. Let’s go through the possibilities and see what we can discover.
Stomach flu: Been there, done that, and had the very messy t-shirt to wash afterward. I feel like tummy aches of this sort diagnose themselves pretty quickly in one fashion or another, and leave little to no mystery behind.
Injury: Generally, I know when she has fallen hard enough to cause damage. Her screams of dismay as we simply look at — not touch — an ingrown toenail makes me feel assured I will hear from the horses’ mouth if something internally damaging happens. However, if your little one is less vocal, you might want to check for pain when you touch their stomachs or signs of bruising. As always, consult your child’s doctor if and when you are in doubt.
Getting a bit more difficult to determine the source:
Potty schedule: The school nurse and our family’s doctor have confirmed that some children refuse to go #2 at school. This cause of discomfort can be easy to recognize as the student may rush to the restroom as soon as they arrive home, which soothes the tummy. Or, they hold it so long they start to develop some harder-to-treat constipation issues, creating an unfortunate cycle that may be harder to pinpoint.
So far, I’ve been assured by my little one she is perfectly willing to perform her necessities at school, and everything else seems to be on schedule at home, so I keep this idea on the back burner and continue to observe.
Food allergies: As part of a family full of gastrointestinally challenged adults, I have a vague suspicion that my daughter might have some dietary sensitivities. As a result, we’ve been playing with her lunch combinations to try to make sure the issue isn’t as straightforward as lactose, gluten, or some other allergy. FYI: Yogurt is looking a tad suspicious…
What if all the tummy aches boil down to something less physical? If, in fact, they aren’t caused by any external source, what could it be?
Does anyone have a flashlight? It’s dark, and I am shooting blind:
Likable nurses: As I have a good family friend who is a fantastic school nurse, one simply can’t count out the possibility that your child’s nurse might just be super awesome. Maybe your little one is just happy to hang out with them and learn more about stethoscopes rather than their ABCs. If I get a vote, I hope it’s this option.
Anxiety: This is where I have a feeling my daughter is landing. After all, she is my child, and I am essentially the essence of anxiety, which has given me more than my fair share of stomach aches (headaches, gray hairs, etc.) in life. However, anxiety is a difficult source to diagnose, especially in a young child. Below are the types of anxiety I suspect someone her age might feel so strongly that it translates to physical discomfort.
Performance anxiety: It’s no secret that children face all sorts of encouragement to do their best, be their best, and perform to approved levels throughout their school careers. This pressure comes from parents more than teachers, I would suspect (insert guilt here). One would hope this doesn’t start as early as kindergarten, but it does. Could the tummy aches stem from a subject she doesn’t understand? Is she just generally afraid of making mistakes? If this is the cause, I feel like the only solution I know of will be patience, reassurance that we all learn through error, and the truth that mistakes aren’t just usual; they are natural.
Social anxiety: I don’t think my daughter feels awkward in every social situation as she seems to be the social butterfly. However, popularity is undoubtedly known to cause anxiety because if one fits in, one usually wants to always fit in.
All the above reasons — and I’m sure many more I haven’t listed — are possible explanations for the physical and/or emotional turmoil that could cause the dreaded tummy aches. So, if you are here with me, trying to weed through the possible causes, I hope you succeed. I hope your little one finds relief. I hope the tummy aches go away. I hope they have a wonderful day.