Functional Abdominal Pain – How Parents Make It Worse: What You Focus On, You Amplify

When children and adolescents have functional abdominal pain (FAP), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or functional dyspepsia (FD), their healthcare clinicians typically ask them, “What’s your pain level today?” and “What’s your average daily pain level?”

If I tell you, “Don’t think of a white horse, don’t think of a white horse, don’t think of a white horse,” what are you thinking about right now? A white horse, of course! This demonstrates that what you focus on, you amplify.

And parents ask their kids about their pain level multiple times a day. So is it any wonder that the child is then focused on PAIN, PAIN, PAIN?

I do realize that parents do this out of love and concern for their child, but it only reinforces the child’s condition, encouraging them to take on “the sick role.”

Parents often allow their child to stay home from school, watch television, and play video games all day because they say, “these are the only things that get their mind off the pain.” This enables the child to believe that the problem is beyond their control.

Parents may push for more medical tests to be done, but this can undermine their child’s confidence in their health care provider. So what can parents do to help?

The best advice I can give parents of children with functional abdominal pain is to send their child the unwritten and unspoken message, “You can do this. We have confidence in you.” This is not to be done like a cheerleader would—“Come on, now…YOU can DO THIS!” Rather, this should be done in an understated fashion, such as not inquiring about their child’s stomachache with the understanding that if they want you to know about it, they will tell you.

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