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Del Morrill, M.S. C.C.H


A Center for Counseling & Hypnosis
Tacoma, Washington, USA
(253) 752-1506

8-Year Old Has a Lot of Problems

I have a niece who is 8 years old that I think you could give me some advice on. If you didn't know her personally you would think she is just like every other 8 yr. old -- she enjoys school, she loves playing with her girl friends and her 2 younger sisters, but she has a few underlying problems that are fairly apparent to me. They are: (1) worry - she worries about everything, from school to being corrected by her mother; (2) physical problems such as stomach pains and joint pains; and (3) lack of breath - she has complained of being short of breath, and has hyperventilated 2 or 3 times and has fainted twice in the last few weeks. Could this be hereditary, as her father, his mother and also her mother's father are chronic worriers? And could all these problems be stress related? Can you help us with this problem child?

Thank you so much for writing to me about your niece. She is fortunate to have someone care for her in this way. The symptoms you mention: stomach pain, joint pain, lack of breath, and excessive worry are definitely signs of chronic stress. As to where the stress is coming from, that is the real question. Before anything, I am assuming that she has been thoroughly checked out by a medical doctor, to make sure there is nothing physically causing her problems. Also, if you have never used one, you might try taking her to a naturopathic or homeopathic doctor--often they have their own specialties and may be able to look at other solutions. First, let's talk about WHY the stress? These days, there are so many possibilities for why a child can be stressed: She might have watched something on TV that fills her with underlying worry--this is especially true when there are children involved in disasters, murder or other mayhem, etc. There are so many news stories in my own country, for instance, about children who are kidnapped or missing, that I don't see how any of our children today can avoid hearing about it and having it as an underlying worry for themselves. She may have a parent who expects too much of her, or who is never satisfied with her performance, or how she looks, etc. She may have had a friend at school in trouble, or been threatened in some way that caused her to overreact at a subconscious level, becoming afraid for herself as well. From your description of how happy she seems with her sisters and friends, I am assuming that everything is basically okay at home. Some children have these symptoms because of abuse of some kind--from a parent, neighbor, relative, or sibling. This is often true if something is going on in which they are too ashamed or frightened to tell anyone else. A child can also become very stressed if there has been any death in the family, even if it hasn't been in the immediate family. It may have been discussed when she was nearby. Or the death or serious illness of a school peer or teacher can also cause an interior stress. Since you say that members of her family are also chronic worriers, this could be a very strong point--It may not be genetically inherited, but she would certainly pick this up at a very early age. This could be especially true because of the father-daughter relationship that is often so strong--she might identify with him and his side of the family. When adults worry, they have a built-in barometer in which they are aware, to some degree, about what they can solve and what they cannot. They are still vocal about their worries, even though they know they can't really do anything about them. A child does not have this same capacity to sort them out. The worries of others become very real and immediate to them. Often we as adults make the mistake in believing that children are very resilient; also that we should never speak with them about difficult issues. But children, just like adults, often need to talk about what goes on around them, or what they are seeing or hearing. I am sure you are aware of how children sense themselves as the center of the world--everything revolves around them and their needs. A major part of growing up is to have that world begin to expand outward. Because they are the "center," as children, they tend to pick up anything around them as "theirs"--that is, they become the 'cause" of many things that they had nothing to do with. A good example of this is the child who witnesses her parents fighting a lot. Even though the fight has nothing to do with the child, she can blame herself, thinking that if she were a better little girl, they wouldn't fight. She can also worry that they will break up and leave her. The same thing is true with abuse--the child takes on the guilt, feeling if she were a better little girl, this would not be happening to her. SOME POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS Now, I don't know if any of the above applies, but, regardless of whether you know the answers, I think you will find that there is someone available who can find out what underlies this stress for her. It might be something quite minor, and easily cleared up. So... 1. If you are in a position to, I most certainly would try to locate a counselor who specializes in children, especially one who also does hypnosis. Being able to talk with someone about how she feels would be very important; and it is especially helpful with someone who is more objective to the family as a whole. If she doesn't have this resolved, it will only increase with each age. Also, if you have a special relationship with her, you might be able to raise questions with her at time when you take her to some place or something special--especially where you can talk at some time when she is more relaxed. 2. If she is a TV viewer, her parents need to make note of what she is viewing, and should be around where they can help her to talk about what she sees and hears. If there is news abroad of some incidence that involves children, they need to give her assurance that she is safe with them (and with you, as her aunt). 3. Forgive me for being quite blunt with this one, but her father (and grandmother) needs to be quite directly addressed about his own worry and how it is no doubt rubbing off on his daughter--there is no way that a child can avoid picking up on this if he is vocal about it in front of her. Basically, he needs to learn to "shut up" and do his voicing of concerns with adults when the children are nowhere near. Children are not at an age of being able to sort out what is worth being stressed about and what is not. Children do not have the same capacity as an adult to prioritize concerns. And, remember, the world revolves around them and so they accept these concerns as theirs, too. Yet, they are not at the age to do anything about them. For some children, these seem to roll off like water. But, for many children, they just lie there churning inside as stress, or coming out as stomach and joint pain, and hyperventilation. 4. Also, I am offering below, some suggestions of creative ways you, and her parents, might be helpful to her, besides giving her a chance to talk about what bothers her: MAGIC STONES - Buy some bright shiny stones and put them in a pretty little box. Give it to her as a present, and tell her that whenever she has a pain in her body, she is to open the box, choose the stone she thinks is the most magical and most powerful. She is then to close her eyes and rub the painful place, saying "Pain, pain, go away. Do not come to me this day . My (tummy) is all well." DIARY - Give her a very special little book and pencil that becomes her "journal (or diary)" in which she writes down her worries and her delights. Suggest she write in it every night before she goes to bed, and any time she has something on her mind, or needs to "talk over something." PRETENDING - Ask her what animal she thinks of as never having to worry about any one or any thing. Then suggest that she become that animal in her imagination whenever she starts worrying about something. VISUALIZATIONS/DREAMING -Teach her (and her parents) these little visualizations to use before she goes to bed. Some of these are my own, and some are adaptations from Maureen Garth's "Starbright: Meditations for Children," a wonderful book for children and parents: THE STAR: She is outside on a beautiful night, where there are thousands of stars. But there is one especially bright star that begins to shine right over her--it is her own special star. It can be any color she wants it to be. It shines down on her head and sends its rays through her making her feel very calm and peaceful. THE ANGEL: She has a special angel who puts her beautiful soft wings around her whenever she feels uncomfortable, or worries or hurts. THE WORRY TREE: She is about to enter a beautiful garden. But before she can open the gate to go inside, she must go over to the big old knotted tree nearby, just outside the garden. This is a tree that accepts everyone's worries--no matter what they are. In a big knothole in the tree are little pieces or paper and little pencils. She can write down her worry and pin it or tie it onto the tree, or tuck it into the trunk. But once she puts it on the tree, the Worry Tree takes it as its own and removes it from her and she never has to carry that worry again. She is then free to go into the beautiful garden. THE GARDEN: Describe a beautiful garden that is her very own--no one else can come into it, except by her invitation. There are beautiful bushes and trees and flowers. And there is a bench by a little pond with colorful fish in it. And when she doesn't feel well, or needs comfort, the garden fills her with peacefulness and security.





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