School and IBS
IBS can occur at any age, but it often begins during the teen years or early adulthood.1 Symptoms can be painful and disruptive. This leads many with IBS to have problems at school or miss school entirely. In addition, symptoms in kids tend to be worse at bedtime and in the mornings. This is because these are times of increased stress for kids and stress can worsen IBS. This can make it hard to sleep or get ready for a day of school ahead.2
Do I go to school?
When we do not feel well, it can be hard to want to go to school. It can also be hard for parents of young children to determine whether or not they should send their kids. However, the more we miss school due to IBS, the more anxious we get about going the next day. This anxiety and stress can build, causing even more symptoms. Many experts agree that going to school is the best move, even when IBS symptoms are present.2
Managing IBS at school
Just because it might be best to go to school, does not mean it is easy. Lots of planning, building a support network, and adjustments to the day might be needed. Making some changes to your (or your child’s) day can help increase feelings of control and decrease stress. Some of these include:2-5
Talk to teachers: Letting teachers know about IBS and specific needs is key. They are more likely to understand and be supportive if they are aware ahead of time. Increased bathroom breaks, flexibility during the day, absences, or trips to the nurse's office can all be discussed in advance. Having one conversation upfront may prevent conflict down the road.
Confide in counselors and nurses: School counselors and nurses can provide another layer of support in addition to teachers. Counselors can help with individual learning plans, grade concerns, or provide backup in case in-class support is not enough. Nurse’s offices can provide a safe space for taking medications or getting rest when symptoms are severe.
Reduce academic stress: Just like other causes of stress, burdens from schoolwork can also increase IBS symptoms. If you are feeling overwhelmed with homework or having trouble completing in-class tasks due to IBS, it may be time to seek support. Working with a tutor or in-class aide or having more time on tests or assignments can help. Specific academic accommodations like these can be created in a 504 plan. Teachers or school administrators can help start this process.
Map out bathrooms: Know where the bathrooms are before you need them. Ask to sit near the door if symptoms are severe.
Have supplies on hand: Carry an emergency kit in your backpack or locker with any medications you might need. It may also be helpful to carry a change of clothes just in case. However, check with your school before bringing in medications. Some schools require these to be stored in a nurse’s office or a special place in the classroom.
Maintain your diet: Avoid foods and beverages that are known triggers for your IBS symptoms. If possible, try to follow the same diet you do at home while at school. It may be necessary to pack lunches and snacks if school-provided options cause flares.
Practice stress management techniques: Deep breathing, exercise, and using visualization can all help reduce your stress and symptoms. It may be part of your agreement with your teacher or individual learning plan that you are allowed to be excused for a quick walk or alone time if needed.
Depending on the age of the child, parents may need to navigate most of these discussions and planning. However, when a child is old enough, they can take part in this process and express their wishes. Taking ownership over different aspects of the school day can help reduce distress and absences.2