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There are many ways you can help children and their families get the care they need.
Heading back to school can often create a lot of emotional changes for children. There's the anticipation—or nervousness—of new teachers, friends and classes, as well as the return of more rigid bedtimes, mealtimes and wake up times.
For some students with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), all these schedule and workload changes can cause stress, trigger gastrointestinal symptoms and affect a child’s well being. Parents who are aware of the effects the “back-to-school” period has on their child can make this transition easier.
"Change in any routine can be disruptive for kids with IBD, both emotionally and physically," says Janis Arnold, MA, LICSW, a social worker at Boston Children's Hospital's Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center." Anytime you experience a big lifestyle shift, like going from the lazy days of summer to a more rigorous school year schedule, it can create stress, and that stress can often lead to an uptick in IBD symptoms."
New routines, surroundings and demands brought on with a new school year can create excitement and/or stress for many children. Stress and excitement have both been linked to triggering symptoms such as abdominal pain in children with and without IBD, thus making the new school year particularly hard for some kids.
"There's a complex physical relationship between the brain and gut, and while the exact extent of that connection is largely unknown, there is an undeniable relation between our emotions and the body's response, especially in our stomach," Arnold says. "Regardless of whether a child with IBD is super excited for the upcoming school year or completely dreading it, the flurry of emotion she is feeling can lead to GI distress."
To make the transition from the beach to the books a little easier for children with IBD, Arnold suggests paying attention to what you already know about your child’s temperament and routine a little before the school year begins. If she seems nervous, or you're concerned a shift in schedule could lead to problems, being proactive is your best bet.
“Awareness is key. Knowing your child could be dealing with potential triggers means you can try to anticipate them and plan accordingly," says Arnold. "If changes in routine or stressful experiences tend to create symptoms for your child, start getting her on a new school year medication or sleep schedule early, maybe a week or two before school starts. This way there are fewer new variables with the inevitably new structure the school day itself will bring."
Here are some suggestions for preparing your child with IBD for going back to school:
“If the child is upset, it will then be a good opportunity to talk about her concerns so you can help address them," Arnold says. "Use the time to remind her that there is a whole team of people working hard to keep her well."
We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”