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Anxiety and Stress Disorders (Children)

Helping With Anxious Behavior

01/18/2006

Question:

My 9 year old daughter has been physically getting sick for over the past 3 1/2 years. Not every night, but this all started when she was 6 years old and saw some disturbing information on the televison about plane crashes and some weather related material such as tornadoes and hurricanes. Her father and I are divorced and have been since she was 3 years old. She was with her father when she experienced this horrible situation. She has no longer wanted to stay the night with her father since this, and her father has had nothing to do with her anyway. So not only has she had her father disown her she still has a fear or anxiety at night and cannot fall asleep unless I`m right there with her. It has recently gotten worse within the last 3 months. I have recently remarried and she adores her new dad! She has seen her school counselor the last 2 years and I have also started to have her seen by an outside psychologist. She has only been seen once so far. I`m really worried about her physically getting sick at night. We have tried everything from calming music to leaving a night light on and relaxing exercises. She doesn`t have a problem with friends and is doing well in school. Help!!

Answer:

You are on the right course by seeking professional help both within the school and outside.  It sounds like your child is highly anxious constitutionally and the recent change in family constitution, though positive, is still challenging for her.  I would say that your child will not become "gravely ill" if you set limits with her around bedtime and furthermore she is using her physical symptoms to communicate her emotional symptom of anxiety.  I would say that with the help of the psychologist, you and your daughter can re-establish a healthy night-time sleep routine.

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Response by:

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