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ASK MOM: Son Turning into Hypochondriac

Son Turning into Hypochondriac

by Mary Follin and Kristi Crosson

THE PROBLEM: Ever since the pandemic started, my 11-year old son ‘catches’ everything he reads about. He gets stomachaches, headaches, sore throats—any symptom he can think of. And each time, he’s sure it’s something deadly. He sings ‘Happy Birthday’ when he washes his hands, sometimes twice, just to make sure. (I even suggested he sing a different song to help him ease up on the compulsion, but he won’t.) I’m scared he’s becoming a hypochondriac. He can’t seem to stop thinking about his health. I keep telling him he’s fine, but that doesn’t work. I need ideas!

MARY SAYS: If ever there were a triggering event for developing hypochondria, a pandemic oughta do it. EVERYBODY has been inordinately focused on their health, other people’s health, germs, and the state of the planet for the last year or so. And because a pandemic is something most of us have never lived through, there are a lot of worst-case scenarios bandying about.

It’s the ‘bandying about’ that can actually be the most harmful to our children. This pandemic we’re in has many people fixating on how dire—and fragile—our existence on this planet truly is. Granted, the horizon is looking brighter, but many adults have been tripped into a state of heightened anxiety and can’t seem to get out of it.

Imagine what this does to the kids.

So, for starters, please be careful about sharing your worries with your son—or in front of him. If your family has been impacted by COVID-19—through illness, job loss, mental health issues—show your son how you are working through it, rather than how terrified you are. This doesn’t mean you should cover up what’s going on, but please limit your son’s involvement to a need-to-know basis.

Make a focused effort to point out the good news. The number of people getting ill is rapidly falling in multiple areas, and many of the places your son may have frequented before the pandemic will have opened back up. Remind him that children do not appear to be nearly as susceptible as older adults, and most people who get COVID-19 do get better. Make sure he knows this, since he is clearly picking up only on the bad stuff.

It might also be helpful to introduce some calming activities into your home. Rather than engaging in conversations about your son’s fears, break out some colorful paints and pads of paper, turn some fun music on, or show him how to sit quietly with his eyes closed for a moment of stillness. In all likelihood, your son’s anxious behaviors will subside when he feels as though the world is more ‘normal’ again. And who’s to say it won’t be? I’m not sure anybody has ever figured out what ‘normal’ really is.

KRISTI SAYS: One of the unfortunate side effects of this pandemic is that it has created a lot of extra fear in children. Children who were never concerned about anything are now worried about everything. On the bright side, your son is doing a great job with one of the best ways to prevent sickness, which is proper handwashing. It’s something adults and even healthcare professionals struggle to do regularly.

The downside, of course, is that he is becoming compulsive. Fear causes people to do strange things, and it’s likely that fear is at the root of his new habits. He is scared to get sick and terrified of what will happen to him if he does. So, he has taken to doing the only thing he knows to control.

Washing his hands.

For him, a headache from dehydration could mean death is imminent. Or a scratchy throat from mild seasonal allergies is the end. Why not teach him some of your grandma’s remedies? Mine always had me gargle warm salt water for sore throats, drink a little juice and water and lay down for a bit with a headache. This may help him feel more in control and show him that he can do something proactively to help his symptoms.

Next, don’t let him have unsupervised access to news headlines and the internet in general. Fear sells, and unfortunately, many headlines lead with worst-case scenarios and the deadliest cases. While these situations are heartbreaking and true, they don’t tell the whole story. Most people who have been infected during the pandemic didn’t have symptoms, and those who did were only mildly sick and got better with the right treatments.

Take him outside. Go hiking on a trail or somewhere outdoors where he can feel safe from getting sick, but also doesn’t need to wear his mask. Some people are more prone to the negative side effects of mask-wearing, which can remind them too often that something is ‘off.’

Talk to your son about his concerns. Let him express how he feels and don’t judge him for it. This past year has been very difficult for everyone. Children lack the ability to process these hard emotions. Don’t be afraid to seek counseling, someone who can help him come up with strategies to overcome his fears. It’s likely your son is trying to process everything he’s feeling and looking for a way to be in control

ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising small children (Kristi). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in! 

If you have a question for Mary and Kristi, we’d love to hear from you! askmomyourquestion@gmail.com

Read more ASK MOM advice.

Mary FollinMary Follin is author of the award-winning children’s book ETHYR and Teach Your Child to Read™, an online phonics program for children ages 3-6. She is mom to two grown kids.

Kristi CrossonKristi Crosson is a freelance writer, homeschooling mom of three children, and author of Healthy Mom Revolution, a blog that offers insights on healthy parenting.

Suzanne Johnson, mom of five children and grandma of six, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of Realms of Edenocht.

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