"Tell Me Where It Hurts: How To Decipher Your Child's Emotional Aches and Physical Pains"

Why "Mom, Dad, I don't feel so good" May Indicate More Than a Physical Problem

Sep 12, 2002


Almost all parents have heard the refrains of "Oooh, I don't feel so good," from their children. Yet there are times when those complaints hold more meaning than just a stomachache. Sometimes those seemingly minor aches and pains can indicate emotional distress.

In a new book, Tell Me Where It Hurts: How to Decipher Your Child's Emotional Aches and Physical Pains, Dr. Jonathan A. Slater, associate professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and chief of the consultation-liaison service at Children's Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian, teaches parents how to read their child's physical symptoms and evaluate them from an emotional and medical standpoint. The book translates findings in cutting-edge biochemical and behavioral research into clear and practical information about:

  • how the mind interacts with the body,
  • how parents can evaluate their child's physical symptoms,
  • how symptoms may mask emotional difficulties, and
  • how to reduce stress-related illnesses.

"Children today experience stress in many areas that previous generations did not," Dr. Slater says. "For example, children have to deal with violence in schools, drugs, sexual issues, academic pressure, threats from terrorism, and pressure from extracurricular activities such as sports and music. There's an emphasis on achievement and competition that can greatly affect today's children."

He adds, "In a large proportion of children and teens, anxiety and depression are not recognized." These problems may result in physical complaints, such as stomach aches, headaches, joint pain, and rashes. Stress also can manifest itself in children by changes in sleep, appetite, and moods. In addition, the symptoms of true medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, asthma, or diabetes, can be worsened by stress. "Parents should not discount looking at emotional issues, even if their child already has a medical condition," Dr. Slater advises.

Dr. Slater emphasizes that "Communication is crucial in order for parents to interpret children's physical complaints correctly. It's a parent's job to interpret 'kidspeak'—the subtle, sometimes vague signals children give when something is wrong. These include physical symptoms as well as words and nonverbal signals. Children with unrecognized emotional problems are at greater risk for future problems, such as substance abuse, continued physical symptoms, academic and behavioral problems, and suicide."

Tell Me Where It Hurts: How to Decipher Your Child's Emotional Aches and Physical Pains is published by Adams Media and will debut in October 2002.