Hypochondria in a 7 year old

Just over two weeks ago, Fjord was part of a conversation about ruptured appendix.  He heard that a person had his appendix removed because it ruptured.  Over night he became a severe hypochondriac.  Every day he talked about appendixes exploding and poison going into his body.  He imagined tummy pains and was convinced that this had happened to him, more than likely he did have tummy pains from the anxiety which he was feeling.  The problem got worse and worse, he started to have what I think must have been panic attacks and said that he was struggling to breath.  He lay in bed literally worrying himself sick.  He wanted to have his appendix removed, just in case.  We looked up the symptoms of ruptured appendix and read them to him, we explained that operations come with risks and that you can’t just have the appendix removed.  We explained that at his age a ruptured appendix would be very rare.  The next problem was that at school his teacher mentioned amoeba as the smallest living creature.  Cliff went to the computer and did a google image search to show him what an amoeba looks like, horror of horrors an image came up depicting the ravages of brain eating amoeba, suddenly exploding appendixes seemed like fairy tales.  Once again rarity etc. etc. were explained to him.  The active mind of a 7-year-old can be a hornets nest.  That evening thinking about all of this, his heart was beating hard and fast, he concluded that there were amoeba in his heart. He said that his heart was going to explode like a balloon because amoeba had moved in and were breathing in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen which was making his heart get bigger and bigger, oi vey!   That night he must have had a dream fueled by all these thoughts and came to our room saying that he could not breathe.

In the beginning I found some humour in his imaginings but this became real concern.  I asked a few people for suggestions how to deal with this and it seems to have helped.  Abbey from Top Tots Boksburg was particularly helpful.  We cannot lie to our children, they need to trust us.  We did the following things and thankfully for the last 2 days there has been no mention of health problems.

1.  During his night-time prayers we thanked God for his health and asked that he be protected from danger

2. In the case of real illnesses we explained all the symptoms and told him that we love him and if he is really sick we will take him to doctors who usually make people better.

3.  We explained that most serious illnesses are inoculated against.

4.  We explained that hearts do not explode.

5.  We explained that many serious illnesses are contagious and if he has not been in contact with a sick person he cannot get that illness.

In short we were honest with him and provided as many facts as we could.  Now if anyone tells him about Ebola and the current outbreak, you gonna regret it!

** 2 years later ** Fjord is recovering from tick bite fever, I made a mistake in fobbing off his initial symptoms because I thought that he was being silly.  That was a big mistake, it’s hard to believe in a wolf when children regularly cry wolf but real illness should always be considered as a possibility.

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  1. Those are good suggestions for working through his fear. I need to remember them!

  2. Shame man the poor little guy – we don’t realise how somethings we say can be so frightening to little ones. Hope he is over his fears and bad dreams

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