How to Help Hypochondriac Tendencies in Children

By Darlena Cunha
When your baby is sick, try to temper your reaction.
When your baby is sick, try to temper your reaction.

When your child is ill, the only thing on your mind is making him feel better, regardless of the method. Seeing your baby in the throes of sickness may unsettle the toughest parent, but be careful not to go overboard. Children may sometimes experience what's known as hypochondria, or the belief that physical symptoms are signs of a critical illness, even when there's no medical evidence to back that up. Children often take their cues from adults, and if you act anxious with your child in earshot, you may accidentally scare him about illnesses for years to come.

Keep the child rather than the illness as the center of attention.
Keep the child rather than the illness as the center of attention.

Give your child your full attention when her complaint first comes up. Listen to her symptoms. Write them down later so that you have a record of her ailments from the beginning. Note any changes as time goes by, both in her complaints and in any physical symptoms. Take her seriously, but don't overemote. She needs to know you're there to comfort her whether or not she's actually ill. Give the attention to the child, not to the perceived illness.

Don't talk extensively about illness around your child, be it their symptoms or someone else's. Children pick up easily on moods and tone, and if they sense a deep threat to their well-being or to the well-being of someone they love, they may be unable to process that anxiety in a healthy way. This anxiety may then manifest itself into ghost symptoms, or the child could start to envision the worst-case scenario for every bump or cough.

Stay calm and reassure your child of his health and stability. Hypochondriac tendencies are often an outpouring of deep-seated security issues. Unable to express other concerns, a child may attach importance to trivial physicality. Calming, soothing reassurance and love can go a long way in these cases. Be firm but gentle. Try to avoid becoming annoyed with the child's repetition. Instead, match it with your own repetition that everything will be OK, as well as with benign explanations for the issues your child may be having.

Help your child take action by researching her worries and dispelling the medical complaints and anxieties she has with professional texts and opinions. Validate that she feels the way that she does, offer her sympathy and understanding, then ask her if she'd like to look for answers with you. If a child feels more involved in her own well-being, she's more likely to believe and be satisfied with the answers you find together.

Warning

Never make light of the situation, hoping to humiliate this tendency out of your child. Professionals say this tactic doesn't work and only serves to lower your child's self-esteem, which could end up exacerbating the problem.

About the Author

Darlena Cunha has been a writer and editor since 2003. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Connecticut. Cunha is also completing her master's degree in mass communication.