My IBD is embarrassing me!

Elementary-age boy crouched over, hiding his head

Unaltered image. Tjook, Flickr. CC License.

“Jack! Come quick I have a surprise for you!”

Jack ran down the stairs to see the surprise his mother had for him. His mom told him to get his jacket because they were going to the planetarium; he had begged his parents for weeks to go. Jack loved science and was learning lots of cool things in his 5th grade science class. However, instead of excitement and elation Jack looked a bit panicked and overwhelmed.

“Jack, what’s wrong? I thought you’d be happy about going to the planetarium.”

Jack told his mother that he was happy, but nervous too because he hadn’t mapped out where all the bathrooms were at the planetarium.

Jack has inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and when he goes to new places, he likes to know where all restrooms and exits are ahead of time in case he has an urgent need to use the bathroom.

What is IBD?

IBD is a condition that effects the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC) are two types of IBD. IBD occurs when there is inflammation along the GI tract. UC affects the colon, whereas Crohn’s may affect the entire digestive system. Common symptoms of IBD include severe abdominal pain/cramping, frequent diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, and even failure to grow in children with Crohn’s. Proper absorption of nutrients and minerals is a major concern.

Many children and teens with IBD can relate to Jack’s anxiety. Managing IBD can be difficult especially as a child or teenager. Below are some tips and suggestions for how to help your child manage some of those potentially embarrassing moments.

Besties with the bathroom

Having IBD may mean spending more time in the bathroom than you’d like. Kids and teens often think that others are judging them or monitoring their frequent use of the bathroom.

  • Remind yourself or child that the only people who are interested in his/her bathroom use are parents and your doctor. Most people are too busy to notice someone else’s bathroom frequency/habits.
  • In school, work with teachers and staff to come up with a code word or planned times when your child is able to use the restroom without bringing additional attention to himself. Most kids and teens will have a 504 plan that will allow them to manage their IBD within the school setting.
  • Bring an extra change of clothes, undergarments and wipes for easy cleanup if accidents occur.
  • Keep travel-size perfume/fragrance and hand sanitizer on hand.
  • Know what may trigger a flare-up and avoid triggers if possible when there’s an upcoming event or activity that your child wants to participate in.
  • Try not to rush your child when he/she is in the bathroom as this can cause more anxiety. Put your patience hat on.
  • Always have a plan and plan ahead when possible.

Peanut, Shrimp, Small Fry, Half-Pint

Sometimes nutrition can be a concern due to poor absorption, which can lead to short stature and even malnutrition. Kids can be cruel and tease others for being short. What can you do about it?

  • Get ahead of the joke. Tell the joke first before anyone has a chance to. Consider thinking of some “comebacks” to short jokes and practice delivering them in the mirror. Addressing the teasing in the beginning in a way that shows that the child/teen is confident can eliminate teasing immediately.
  • If teasing continues and becomes problematic, parents should address it with school staff and the parents of the other child/teen. Continue to address it and check in with your child until the bullying stops completely. Parents may want to consider talking to the other parent themselves if school is not helpful. Consider contacting NoBLE (Beaumont Health’s bullying program) at 248-898-9951.
  • Help your child focus on areas of strength. Get involved in activities where height isn’t a requirement. For example, instead of trying out for the basketball team, suggest golf or bowling. If your child isn’t athletic, consider hobbies such as photography, drama, band, chess or debate club.

How do I look?

Some of the side effects of the treatments for IBD, such as steroids, can alter your child’s appearance and mood. Be sure to discuss the side effects of all treatments with your doctor.

  • If you notice that your child/teen is more moody or angry than usual and they are taking steroids, discuss other treatment options with your doctor.
  • Consider meeting with a psychologist or mental health professional to learn coping skills to manage the moodiness.
  • For changes in physical appearance, consider meeting with the school and teachers of younger kids to discuss with the class why your child may look differently. This can help prevent bullying and make your child feel more comfortable going to school.
  • For middle and high school students, work with school staff to identify options for optimal academic success is important. Some options may include doing a presentation on IBD for extra credit or minimizing opportunities for teasing by allowing the student to leave class five minutes early to avoid crowded hallways and limited adult supervision.

– Carnigee Truesdale-Howard, PsyD, ABPP is a Pediatric Psychologist with Beaumont Children’s Hospital Divisions of Hematology/Oncology & Gastroenterology

1 Response to “My IBD is embarrassing me!”

  1. 1 Anonymous October 8, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    Such a great article. Thank you for this information.

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