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9 yr old having irrational fears of many things - please help

5 replies

nminx · 04/07/2013 01:43

My 9 year old DS has always been 'spooked' by things and afraid of being alone but it is getting worse not better with age. He won't go upstairs on his own, even to his own bedroom and doesn't like being downstairs if we are upstairs. He will put the TV on for background noise if it can't be avoided. Now at bedtime he won't even go to clean his teeth in the bathroom alone, although we are only in the next room. He leaves flushing the toilet until last and then runs at top speed to get away from the bathroom. We live in a big old three story Victorian house and I understand it could be a bit 'Scooby-doo' to a young child, but it has a lovely atmosphere and had a really nice family living in it before we did.
I asked him what he was afraid of and he said the things in the bathroom (& other rooms) won't come out if there is an adult there. He says he sees visions which spook him (things like black wings and shapes). He had his eyes tested recently and all is well.
I feel for him as I was /still am afraid of the dark, but hand on heart, I have never shared this with him. I don't rubbish his fears but try to rationalise them and im afraid if I made him feel silly that he would stop communicating his fears to me. His dad is not afraid of anything, doesn't believe in anything going bump in the night without a logical explanation, and is getting very frustrated with him.
We love him very much and can't bear to see him so afraid, sometimes to the point that he cries in fear of these things.
Any advice would be welcome. We worry that taking him to a doctor would reinforce it by saying that there is something wrong with him. Which of course, there isn't. He is a very sensitive and loving child, he is doing well at school and seems to be happy in all other ways.
Background info - his grandad died a year ago. This wonderful man was like a third parent to him. Recently his other grandad has been poorly but we've explained that its not life threatening poorly. It may be a contributing factor, but this behaviour was well underway before any of this happened.
Sorry about the length of this post, I just wanted to try and put as much info in as I could. Thank you.

OP posts:
cory · 04/07/2013 11:11

Seems like you are handling it really well.

The next thing I would do would be to tell him that some people just get these obsessive thoughts. That it's not a sign of anything bad, it's just the brain feeling slightly anxious because that's the way some people's brains work, so it tries to make up a story to fit the feeling. A bit like when you are asleep and need the toilet so you start having all these weird toilet related dreams, or you've got entangled in the duvet so you dream that you are fighting someone or trying to run away.

Tell him that the good news is that you can control these thoughts and that there are special techniques that people use to do that. And then teach him some basic CBT techniques. My favourite one is whenever I feel anxious thoughts starting to picture myself walking down a road and I come to a crossing with signposts. One fork is labelled Bad thoughts, and I look at that sign and say (sometimes aloud to myself) NO, I don't have to go down that road, I am going to choose to go down this other, much nicer road instead.

Tell him about people who have a phobia about aeroplanes but can gradually train themselves up to the point where they can even travel in one. Tell him they start small, with things that don't seem too scary and then they gradually do harder and harder things. Perhaps he could work on that too, practise by being alone in the day, then alone in the evening with the telly on etc.

Also tell him that if you start running when you're scared, you will make your brain think there really is something dangerous there so the anxious thoughts will get worse. Instead tell him to stand still, relax his shoulders and take a few long slow breaths: that tricks the brain into thinking you're not scared and then you won't feel so scared.

sensesworkingovertime · 04/07/2013 11:30

Hi nminx this must be hard for you all. Just a few questions and things I'm wondering about, thought it easier to bullet point these!

  1. If he has friends round or there are any visitors, does he still behave the same?
  2. Does he have these tendencies at school or anywhere else or is it just linked to your house. I would chat to the teacher about what he is like ( he doesn't have to know) and see what his/her take on it is.
  3. Have you taken any steps to make the house less dark and creepy looking. Could you put some bright and cheerful pictures up for example( just plucking at straws here!)
  4. Keep talking with him, I'm sure his granddad's death must have had a big effect on him, esp being as close as you described so it could be playing a part in this. I remember myself, my brother and also my DD going through this fear of being upstairs alone etc at roughly a similar age so to an extent it must be quite normal but if it's getting out of control you/he need some help.
    5)There are some good childrens' books out there I believe, don't know any specific titles but I know there are ones for younger children about fears and worries. It might be worth googling plus putting a specific question on here about it.
  5. I would try not to worry about seeing a professional as a negative thing, although I know what you mean but you need to put a positive take on it, if you do go down that road eg something simple..."if you have a broken leg you would go to hosp to get it fixed so it's the same with worries, doctors are their to help 'fix' etc etc

    I'm sure he will be alright, hopefully soon, take care.
sensesworkingovertime · 04/07/2013 11:33

Cory that seems like some good advice, I'll even be trying some of those tips myself!

nminx · 04/07/2013 23:50

What lovely responses. Thank you so much for these comforting and kind posts. I was genuinely moved with their sensitivity and good advice and suggestions. Cory I loved the signpost idea and the suggestion of how brain works. Thank you for putting so much thought into your post.

Sensesworkingovertime thank you for sharing your own experiences with this type of fear and for your kind words. To answer your questions: when he has friends round they are generally in the same rooms at the same time so the issues don't come up. He is/was the same (afraid) at both grandparents'houses but not at school (as far as I know - but then he wouldn't really be alone there either i suppose). We have night lights and lights left on everywhere - we now even leave his bedroom door open with a light on in the hallway - at his request.

My OH and I spent some time googling the issue and it seems that quite a few children have experienced similar after the death of a close relaitve. Perhaps little one hasn't dealt with the loss as well as we thought and his sadness/fear of it happening again is manifesting itself as general fear that he can't control.

I will definitely search out some literature on addressing these problems. Thanks again all, some very useful stuff.

OP posts:
sensesworkingovertime · 09/07/2013 13:35

Hi again nminx, glad you found some help. I didn't want to throw another worry into the mix when I asked about school, I just thought he might sometimes be alone in a corridor or if he goes to loo. If it's not a problem, great! Take care.

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