Ask the Experts

Q: “Is My Child Faking Her Stomachaches or Is It Anxiety?”

Some children experience their anxiety physically in stomachaches or headaches. Though these symptoms are based in anxiety, parents should acknowledge that the pain is real — and offer calming techniques.

Q: “What do I say when my child says she has a stomachache or a headache and I know that it’s anxiety-based?”


A: The way children express anxiety is not necessarily straightforward. A child is not going to come and say to his mother, “I’m anxious about X and I’m worried about Y.” The child may not even understand the connections.

When children are anxious they can look angry, irritable, sad. They can look like they’re being oppositional or difficult. They can refuse to go to school or on a long-planned trip or to see their friends. They can have trouble sleeping, they can eat too much or not eat at all because they’re anxious.

Even if it’s anxiety-driven, a stomachache or headache ache can be very uncomfortable and the pain very real. In order to cope with that pain, the child is going to need a set of strategies, such as mind-body visualizations and relaxation techniques, which recognize that the stomachache or headache is rooted in anxiety. If these specific strategies can be offered without suggesting there’s nothing wrong with the child, then you are acknowledging the child’s distress while offering help.

[Free Download: Kid-Friendly Mindful Meditation Exercises]

This content came from the ADDitude webinar by Eileen Costello, M.D., and Perri Klass, M.D., titled “Worry Less: Managing Anxiety in Children and Adolescents with ADHD and Learning Differences”, which is available for free replay here.

Updated on October 3, 2019

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