She mentioned her stomach hurts for the hundredth time today. Her face lights up when I tell her I am going to take her to the doctor. “When!” She beams, her little body covered in band-aids. I am concerned. My five-year-old is consumed with her health.
“Do I have a fever?” She asks. “Do you think I am sick?” She questions. Unfortunately, I have seen this behavior before. As a child therapist, I know exactly where we are headed. We are entering the world of health anxiety.
Health anxiety, also known as Hypochondria is a condition where people fixate and obsess over their health. Many people don’t realize that health anxiety can start in children. Unfortunately, it is alive and kicking in little anxious minds.
Do your kids want you to take their temperature all the time? Do they worry about cancer, tumors and heart disease?
Here are 13 signs of Health Anxiety in children:
Obviously, children can have several of these signs without having Health Anxiety (especially #5), but if most of the signs sound familiar, Health Anxiety might be the issue at hand.
[This list is not meant to diagnose and is for informational purposes only. If you have concerns about your child’s anxiety or health, please seek out the guidance of a local mental health and medical professional].
#1. Your child has a new physical complaint almost every week and the doctor has concluded your child is healthy.
#2. Your child brings up a concern about their health every single day.
#3. Your child frequently asks you to take their temperature.
#4. Your child worries about things like cancer, brain tumors and heart disease.
#5. Your child is permanently wearing a band aid (beyond your typical child’s behavior).
#6. Your child finds mysterious lumps on their body that no one else can feel.
#7. Your child researches ailments on the internet.
#8. Your child knows more about germs and diseases than the average child.
#9. Your child is frequently absent from school (or would be if you let them).
#10. Your child frequently has sharp pains that cannot be identified and the doctor has ruled out any medical origin.
#11. Your child takes a long time to recover after an illness even though they are healthy.
#12. Your child has anxiety attacks when they think they are sick.
#13. Your child gets very concerned when they are around someone who is sick.
Helping Children with Health Anxiety
Does this sound like your child? If so, what can you do to help? The earlier children with this type of anxiety get help, the better.
Here is what you can do:
Do not feed into your child’s worries. If you start to have concerns about your child’s health do not vocalize them to your child, monitor them silently.
Explain Health Anxiety to your child. Let them know that some children worry too much about their health. Let them know that sometimes anxiety can make you hyper-focus on every ache and pain. When anxiety hyper focuses on these aches and pains, those sensations can get more intense. Anxiety will tell you it is something horrible and deadly like a tumor. Your anxiety will tell you that if you don’t get help right away you might get very, very sick. These thoughts increase your worries and your panic.
Explain to them that although the feelings are real, the situation is not serious. Anxiety is a trickster who likes to make us worry.
Do not discuss your own aches and pains in front of your child. You want to minimize the focus of health issues in your home.
Teach your child to beat anxiety and defeat anxious thoughts.
If your child continually complains about aches and pains throughout the day, have them write it down and give you the list once a day. This helps deflect the focus on physical ailments, while still helping your child feel heard.
Watching your child worry about brain tumors, cancer and heart disease can be upsetting. Often these types of worries are just the tip of the iceberg. If your child is consumed with anxiety, cognitive-behavioral therapy can help.
Do you have a child who is fixated on health issues? What do you do to help? Leave a comment below. Do you know someone who has a child who is consumed with their health? Share this article with them.