Stomach aches in teenagers

Stomach aches in teenagers. It can be stressful and provoking when our children have medically unexplained aches and pains that won’t go away.

Our panic can make us angry and resentful towards them as we start to believe that they are somehow doing it on purpose and selfishly attention seeking, hijacking our attention in the worst way possible.

So what’s going on? Why do some people have medically undiagnosed symptoms and are they “doing it on purpose to wind us up!”?

Stomach aches in children may frustrate parents but they tell us that a young person is feeling unhappy and, perhaps, does not yet have the capacity to think about or speak about how they feel.

Maybe, as mad as it sounds, a young person might not even be aware themselves, on a cognitive level, that they are unhappy so their body is recognising the unhappiness and creating pain to bring the situation into their awareness. 

The medical profession may call this kind of tummy ache somatic or psychosomatic in other words, these kinds of stomach aches in children have an emotional cause rather than a physical one. I would agree. 

Emotional distress is felt in adult bodies as pain, so why not in children? How many of us have shoulder ache or get head aches from too much stress? Are these not genuinely painful physical sensations brought about by our emotional distress.

Do not underestimate the power of your body to cause you pain all by itself. This may explain why we seek out activities that make our bodies feel good. Sport, sex, sunbathing, drinking, self-harm….All of these things impact our bodies positively and we seek out these things to make us feel better. 

When I work with young people who seem to have no physical reason for their pain or who have tummy aches or head aches, then do a number of things:

  • I accept the pain is real 
  • I realise that this young person will have gotten used to people denying their experience
  • I understand that part of them may also have started to deny their own experience too
  • I am clear also that I will help to find the cause of the pain and help make things better  
  • Offer to help explain things to adults who don’t yet understand

If tummy aches, head aches and general ill health are troubling your child or someone you love then please get in touch with me to find out how counselling can help young people get better.