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Anxiety and Stress Disorders (Children)

Difficulties Socializing

07/16/2004

Question:

My 4 ½ yr. old has been insisting she will not get any bigger for the last two years. She is aware that she is growing, but becomes sad/angry when it is talked about. Because she says she is not getting bigger, she is insistent about not going to school. ANY mention of it brings on heartbreaking sobs or yelling. Because it has gone on so long and is escalating, we are not sure how to handle this. She also has developed an INTENSE fear of ALL her friends and playmates. In the space of literally thirty minutes, she went from playing fine to crying hysterically. She was not fighting with her friends or anything. She now refuses to play with ANY of them. She starts to panic, and then shakes and sobs whenever she thinks any of her friends want to play with her. She has never attended daycare or preschool, but has always had several different groups of playmates. I work part time, so she is used to being seperated from both her dad and I for certain periods. She has two older sisters, 10 & 14, and she is fine playing with them and their friends. Her dad and I have tried bribes, threats, talking, ignoring the behaviors, EVERYTHING! We do not know what to do and she is becoming increasingly worse with both behaviors. We do not feel this is a power struggle; she is a very happy, sweet child except for her VERY intense fears of these two things. We are thinking about trying to find a counselor for her as we are becoming desperate. Is there anything we can do short of sending our little girl to a mental health expert?

Answer:

Separation anxiety is common at this age but your description does not sound like this. Children often have problems socializing and in negotiating relationships with peers at this developmental stage. There appears to be either some positive reinforcement, you mentioned the bribes and the attention, that has been associated with this occurrence, or some other factors you may not be aware of that sustain this reaction. It does not sound like your typical "anxiety" problem.  Obviously your child is not shy as you describe her.  I would think a behavioral specialist might be in order, I would talk to your child's pediatrician regarding recommendations.

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Response by:

Floyd R Sallee, MD
Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati