Can an Unhealthy Digestive System Cause Behavior Problems in Children?

An unhealthy digestive system causes discomfort and even pain. Behavior problems might be an indicator of pain for children who can't define what is going on. The problems might occur leading up to mealtime or could begin shortly after a snack or meal. If your child displays behavior problems and you can't get to the root of them, consult with his pediatrician for further evaluation and treatment.

Childhood Digestive Disorders

Several conditions result in unhealthy digestion. If your child has a food intolerance or celiac disease, his body doesn't always absorb nutrients like it should. Acid reflux prevents food from being digested properly, and dumping syndrome results in the stomach emptying too quickly. Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome are other digestive disorders from which some kids suffer. Structural abnormalities in your child's body can also result in an unhealthy digestive system. Each of these conditions can change your child's behavior.

Common Behaviors

A digestive disorder might be something your child subconsciously knows is happening, so he might refuse to eat. For example, if your child has acid reflux that flares after eating, he might simply push his plate away because he knows that eating will cause pain afterward. Other disorders, such as celiac disease, might cause your child to be irritable or have trouble concentrating, according to the Enabling Support Foundation website. Your child might also display increased fatigue or complain of stomach pain.


In many cases, diagnosing and treating the digestive disorder allows for treatment that helps eliminate the behavioral problems. For example, if your child has celiac disease, a gluten-free diet helps him feel better, which means he'll probably have more energy and be in a happier mood. In some cases, however, your child might need additional assistance to get him back to normal. The Center for Excellence in Disabilities at West Virginia University suggests rewarding desired behavior, which motivates your child to keep trying 2.

Getting Help

If your child displays new or negative behaviors surrounding eating or that crop up suddenly, make an appointment with his pediatrician. His doctor uses your report of his symptoms to help diagnose the possibility of an unhealthy digestive system. In many cases, the pediatrician might refer you to a specialist for appropriate treatment. If this doesn't help reduce the undesired behaviors, a therapist specializing in children can help your child learn new ways to behave. For some conditions, a nutritionist or dietician can help you make sure your child is eating as healthy as possible with his digestive disorder, which can help you manage behavior as well.