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Life in Balance: How to tell if your child has anxiety when they say their tummy hurts

Anxiety is a common problem many parents and kids face and there are steps that both can do to help to overcome those problems.

BOISE, Idaho — Many kids don't tell their parents if they have anxiety about school, friends, or other major things in their lives. Instead, some of them say 'My tummy hurts.'

It's a common problem many parents face and can help their children overcome.

According to Dr. Roberto Negron, a child psychiatrist at Saint Alphonsus, a third of pediatrician visits are actually related to mental health issues.

"It's extremely common for children and adolescents to present to their pediatricians tummy aches and physical complaints," Dr. Negron said. "Tummy aches seem to be one of the more common complaints kids have."

He says the stomach is like a second brain in people.

"You know often you'll hear people say I feel it in my gut or they have butterflies before they have to present or something like that and it reminds us that the brain and gut are connected," Negron said.

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The stomach has more serotonin receptors than any other organ, including the brain, according to Negron. Saratonin is the happy neurotransmitter that keeps people happy and calm.

"So when you get stressed out you are impacting your serotonin receptors at the level of the gut and at the level of the brain," he said.

This can make people sick, especially in little kids who don't understand what stress is or that it could be the culprit in their upset stomachs.

"They may not relate, these kids are bullying me in school and that's why I don't want to go, and I'm having tummy aches, but they're not connecting the tummy ache to the stress of being bullied for example," Dr. Negron said.

He says understanding what is happening is the biggest step and its when parents and caretakers can step in and help. It is also important to start helping them understand these feelings early.

MORE: Life in Balance: Greener childhood could mean less mental health problems down the road

"If you have a kid that's struggling to get to school, having lots of physical complaints, it's important to recognize it," Negron said. "Help them process when they come back home - how did it go, what happened. Talking with them, encouraging them to be comfortable opening up to you and being honest about your feelings and not belittling them or making them feel like their feelings are real or valid or they shouldn't be having those feelings."

Dr. Negron says it's not the parents' fault that their children ever had those types of feelings in the first place and all parents need to remember that.

"It is important to never blame a parent for something that's going on with their child," he said. "There is no perfect parent and most kids grow up to be healthy individuals even though none of us as parents have been perfect." 

If a stomach ache persists and you believe it's because of stress in your child, Dr. Negron suggests getting help from a counselor and its important to address it early.

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