Parenting a Child with IBS: How to Help
After living with IBS for more than 25 years, I like to think that I’ve dealt with my fair share of pain, embarrassment, and frustration. But nothing – nothing has been more painful and challenging than seeing my children in pain and not being able to “fix” it for them.
I have a hunch that I’m not alone in this.
What it's like to be the parent of a child with IBS
I have two children. One seems to have been blessed with an iron stomach and zero food intolerances. The other one has dealt with digestive issues, food intolerances, allergies, migraines, and various aches and pains since she was a baby. Is IBS hereditary? Some researchers believe there could be a genetic component, but since there are no clear-cut diagnostic tests or lab results that can pinpoint exactly what’s going wrong with this condition, it’s difficult to say.
What I can tell you is that, for as long as I can remember, I have felt guilty about the fact that my child seems to struggle with food and digestion issues. Somehow, whether genetically or by example, I have spent a good deal of my life worrying that I may have passed these issues along to her, and, because there isn’t a cure, feeling helpless about how I can help.
But maybe I’m wrong. After a lot of reflecting on this topic, I’ve actually come to realize that there was plenty I could do, and did do, to help my child.
Below, I’ve made a list of things I've learned about helping a child deal with IBS. Hopefully, they will help you, too.
Tips for helping your child deal with IBS
Even if you’re just beginning to learn about IBS, you’ll be doing your child a favor by educating yourself and making your own health a priority. You can do this by finding a knowledgeable, understanding doctor, by learning which foods trigger your own IBS symptoms, by keeping a symptom diary, and by learning about different dietary alternatives that might help, like following the low FODMAP diet (also known as the IBS diet).
Teach your child about digestion
I don’t know about you, but I always seem to feel better when I understand what’s happening to my body when it’s in distress, even when I can’t fix it. Teaching your child about digestion can help them learn to tune in to their body’s signals, which in turn can help them cope with an emotional perspective, too.
Encourage good bowel habits
It’s normal for kids to avoid things like brushing their teeth and taking the time out to use the bathroom. But we’ll be doing them a huge favor by teaching them to make bathroom time a priority. Maybe they are nervous about using public restrooms or having a bowel movement when they’re at school. Whether they’re dealing with the discomforts of constipation or the urgency of diarrhea, teaching kids to pay attention to colon contractions and learning relaxation skills can go a long way toward feeling better.
Validate their experience
In my opinion, this is the most important tip I could ever pass along. If you’re an IBS sufferer, you’re already well aware that just because nothing shows up on a lab test doesn’t mean the pain isn’t real. Let them know that if they have negative feelings about their stomach issues, that’s understandable – and perfectly normal.
What I can do to help my child
No, I can’t “fix” my child’s digestive issues, just like I can’t “fix” my own. But I’ve learned that there are ways to decrease IBS symptoms, and I can pass that hard-earned wisdom along to my child. More than that, I can offer emotional support and comfort to my child when they’re dealing with IBS symptoms – it comes naturally to me, and I’m guessing it’s probably second nature to you, too.
What self-soothing techniques have you learned to cope with IBS pain? Are there any tips that you could pass along to your child? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
Do you live with any sleep disorders (eg. insomnia, RLS, sleep apnea) in addition to IBS?