QUESTION: While getting my 10-year-old daughter ready for school in the mornings, she doesn’t want to eat and often complains of stomachaches, but after school, in the evenings and on the weekends, she’s fine. What do you think is going on?
BBB: Hmmm. I have no idea what is going on. I can tell you that nothing happens for no reason; all behavior is motivated. And based on the presence of her ephemeral stomachaches every school day morning, it seems like something is cooking.
It sure feels like it is related to life at school, doesn’t it? It’s time for you to do your homework. It needs to be a bit of sleuthing and a good amount of gentle, somewhat probing conversation.
There are a few things that I wonder and that you might ponder, too. What is she like? Is she very attached to you or Dad? Does she have trouble separating from you, even at her age? What is her temperament—sensitive, reserved, introverted, slow-to-warm, an observer? Does she have a “nervous tummy?” Does she tend to get stomachaches when something is on her mind? How is her social life normally? Does she have friends, get calls for play dates and take pleasure in her friendships? How does she do in school? Does she meet expectations? Is she hard on herself? Does she like her teacher? Does she think her teacher likes her? How is she normally when it comes to eating? Does she have any food issues? And most interestingly, how was she over the summer? Did she have the same symptoms?
You need to be a careful observer to determine if anything else has changed. Is she sleeping well? Is she losing/gaining weight? Does she cry easily? What’s her mood?
Speak to her teacher in person to ask how she was doing (did) in class. Try to find out if the teacher noticed anything new or different, socially or schoolwork-wise. Ask about her peer relationships. Teachers usually know when something is brewing.
If she has close friends, you might ask their parents if they know of anything that is going on, asking them to swear secrecy about your call.
Most importantly, it’s time to say to your daughter, “You know how much I care about you. I’m feeling worried. I’ve noticed that every school morning your tummy bothers you and you aren’t hungry. It makes me think something is on your mind…[pause]…is there?”
Hopefully, you have an open, comfortable communication with your daughter already, so this type of conversation won’t be new to you. Don’t be surprised if she says nothing is wrong. She may need to percolate a while, and she will come back to you hours or even days later. You can revisit some time later, or add to your first conversation something like, “When I was younger I used to get stomachaches when I was worried or something was bothering me, too. It always felt better when I talked to my mom (or dad) about it.”
Now that your daughter is a tween, you are coming into what can be turbulent times. Girls in their teens have lots of ups and downs. They personalize many issues and problems; they are self-conscious and it can be a highly emotional time. I suggest you fasten your seat belt and get ready for a ride of a whole different kind!
Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator, and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers, and other professionals. She is the award-winning author of the bestselling, “Just Tell Me What to Say” and “You’re Not the Boss of Me.” Betsy has been featured on the Today Show, The Early Show and Good Morning America and has been cited in Parents Magazine, Twins Magazine, Family Circle and many more. Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have five grandchildren, so far.