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Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Anxiety and Stress Disorders (Children)
Anxiety and Aging
My 5 year old son seems to have anxiety about getting older. Many nights before he falls asleep he comments on how he doesn`t want to be a dad and he doesn`t want to be a teenager. I`m assuming this is due to normal separation anxiety and that he wants to be with us "forever". He then says that he does not want my husband and I to become grandparents. He has been pretty consisitant with these thoughts for the last couple of months. It seems as though he is thinking about death and perhaps realizing that as we age we may die. My husbands father died over 20 years ago and my son is aware of this (although I`m not sure he understands the concept entirely) as he has asked my husband and his grandmother what happeded to his grandfather. I`m not quite sure if these are normal feelings and fears for a 5 year old and what do I say when my son says these things to me just before he falls asleep? I know he is anxious about all of this because he always tells me his worrisome thoughts just before falling asleep i.e. "Mom, I don`t want to go to the dentist". Please give my suggestions because I would like him to stop thinking these thoughts and I need to know how to respond so that he will grow-up without these fears.
Although it is possible that your 5-year-old has a disorder, it is
unlikely. It sounds like he has presented you with a new version of
death fears. This age is a time when many youngsters gradually become aware of the permanence of death. They often fear the loss of loved ones like their parents or siblings. In this case, it sounds like he associates growing older with an increased chance of losing you and the rest of his family. This is not a pathological condition, but a normal and necessary developmental task. There are several good books for him (stories) that you could find at the library that could help him broaden his understanding and coping.
There are also books available for you to help you find ways to manage his fears.
A bedtime closeness ritual that provides him with opportunities to share his good and bad feelings and thoughts (as you are doing) is an excellent parenting strategy. However, although you are assuming that his fears of growing up are about death, I am always surprised at how frequently I am wrong with such assumptions. The next time he tells you that, asking him what is in his head that is making him think about that (asking this in a very concrete way is best for a 5 year-old) may reveal something
totally different to you. If he does say death, acknowledge that it is very scary and very sad, but there are ways to make it less so. Tell him who would take care of him if something happened to his parents, assure him that that person would love him just like you do, etc. Also, tell him that most boys and girls don't lose their family when they are little, but that growing up can't stop it from happening, either.
Kathleen A Pajer, MD
Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University