Fear & Anxiety in School-Aged Children

Parent Q&A

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  • Hello, BPN!

    I am looking for a psychiatrist for my son (age 7) who my pediatrician thinks has OCD.  He has to go through a routine to check all the locks in our home before he goes to bed, and will do things like say, "I love you!" over and over.  It's sweet, but he seems pretty stressed out.  Also a lot of anxiety in general.  Ideally would be someone who approaches with therapy first, I would like to avoid giving medication if at all possible.  We're in Berkeley.  Thanks for any recommendations or advice. 


    OCD sufferer here. The good news is that OCD treatment is pretty straightforward and highly successful. Many times, without the need of medication. I personally never needed it in my 25 years of living with it.  It is VERY important though that you contact an OCD specialist. Unfortunately, regular talk therapy won't do. I highly recommend that you reach out to Dr. Cyndi Lowe. Not sure if she treats children but she will know who to refer to you to as she is a well of knowledge on all things OCD. 

    Good luck! If he, indeed, has OCD, there's a huge community and tons of resources to pull from. I assure you that life can/will be just as joyful :)


    Perhaps you can start with a child psychologist. My daughter suffered from anxiety and Dr. Fortunee Kayra-Stuart, PHD, worked with her for 18 months and the problem was resolved. Dr. Stuart is exceptionally experienced and also very knowledgeable about pharmacology. She practices in Berkeley on 9th street. 
    Best wishes for a good outcome. 

    My daughter had all the symptoms you describe in your post.  I feel for you.  I recommend Dr. Emily Asher, in Oakland.  She is a caring child psychiatrist, well trained to offer both medication (IF needed!)   and integrated psychotherapy.  She has  deep experience with OCD and anxiety in young children.  Reach her at 510 488 5074; she even has weekend office hours in Rockridge!  I wish you and your son the best. 

    You could look into Rogers, in Walnut Creek - they have intensive OCD programs for kids and teens (and can probably give you the names of a psychiatrist?).  They have have a long waitlist, though.

  • Hi, 

    My 6y first grader has always been very anxious, but he has now reached a point that it is affecting his daily life and especially his school. He is so afraid of making mistakes,that he rather just does nothing in class.  His teacher and me are at wits end. Any advice or recommendations on a (cognitive behavioral) psychologist that accept Medi-Cal are greatly appreciated. Thank you! 

    I'm curious if he has been referred/assessed for an IEP through the school. That would be an important step and could potentially offer some support through Educationally Related Mental Health Services. 

    You might explore a 504 or IEP. Mental Health is an issue that can be part of a school district assessment.  Some info: https://dredf.org/ See emotional disturbance on this list: https://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ca/disablecodes.asp.

    Suggest seeing a psychiatrist first who specializes in OCD and anxiety disorders. Fear of making mistakes can be a sign of OCD. Has your son articulated if he thinks something “bad” might happen to him or someone he cares about if he makes a mistake? 

  • Hi wonderful BPN community,

    I am looking for resources (books, podcasts, games, therapists, etc.) for children with chronic overthinking/over-worrying. Ideally these tips/tools would appropriate for kids ages 8/9 up through teen years -- or even resources for younger kids if possible. Has anything worked for you or your child?

    Thank you so much!

    I just ordered this book based on recommendation from my pediatrician for my 5 year old who has been constantly worrying lately. Haven't read it yet but seems to deal with all ages. 

    "Freeing Your Child from Anxiety, Revised and Updated Edition: Practical Strategies to Overcome Fears, Worries, and Phobias and Be Prepared for Life--from Toddlers to Teens" by Tamar Chansky

    My daughter started overworrying/thinking when she was edging into puberty. I found that exercise (team sports, a walk to the store with me, a family expedition to Tilden or wherever) helped clear her mind. Any movie or TV show that made her laugh was also helpful. These are short-term help, as opposed to therapy, but children do tend to be more communicative about their feelings and anxieties when they've breathed fresh air and giggled a bit. (At 31, our girl still overthinks, but she knows it now and her behavior is more balanced. And riding is her favorite relaxation.)

    Hello, Over-thinking is a classic symptom of anxiety. You will be able to find numerous resources online, and a good therapist trained in CBT techniques can be very effective. Here's a link to an NPR Life Kit that may be of interest: https://www.npr.org/2019/10/23/772789491/how-to-help-a-child-struggling-with-anxiety. My main resources are outdated as my daughter is now a young adult, and the field is quickly evolving. I can say addressing the anxiety early was helpful for her. She continues to use the techniques she learned as an elementary school aged child to calm her thoughts.

    I would suggest one of the tools to put in the "I'm overthinking this toolkit" to be meditation. Ziva meditation (though I'm sure there are many others) is about to release a series for kids. I also think the book "The Whole Brain Child" has good recommendations for an approach to "Whole Brain thinking" which I think would be beneficial to improving chronic overthinking/over-worrying. Good luck! 

    Try to book "The Opposite of Worry" by Lawrence J. Cohen. He's the Playful Parenting guy.

  • We thought our son might have ADHD so he was recently evaluated by a neuropsych, who identified that he doesn't have ADHD but recommended some CBT to support him with some strategies for anxiety. He's super bright and doesn't have any social issues, but gets pretty nervous about doing the right thing in school and seeing approval/reassurance. Does anyone have any recent recommendations in Oakland or nearby?

    My daughter saw Dr. Daniela Owens in Rockridge for CBT for social anxiety. Dr. Owens was wonderful.

    Hi there, I wanted to forward this along. I'm a school-based OT and this popped into my inbox today, a free mini workshop on anxiety. I'm planning to listen in, hope it is helpful to you too


    Clearwater in Oakland is great with CBT (they call it DBT, a take on CBT that includes mindfullness)

    Contact Emily Berner at SF Bay Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Oakland on Rockridge Avenue. She works with my 7 year old son on anxiety.

  • Hello wise parents! We are in crisis mode here and in desperate need of some advice. Our 9.5 year old son recently stopped sleeping through the night because he is scared of burglars breaking in and killing the whole family. We moved to a new home about 6 weeks ago, around which time he also overheard another mom telling me about how her home was burglarized a few years ago, and since this time he cannot sleep through the night. He lays rigid in his bed listening, looking and waiting for catastrophe and wakes us up whenever he hears any kind of sound in the house. I have woken up to use the restroom around 3 am before and have seen him creeping around the house checking the doors or investigating a noise. He has also woken us up by placing his fingers under our noses to make sure we are breathing. He wakes us up at least 5-10 times a night asking us if we heard a noise and to check on it until it usually ends with everyone in tears because my husband reaches his limit and starts yelling (which I'm sure has its own negative repercussions for my son's mental health). I know this is beyond normal and is getting into mental illness territory, so that is where I need your help. We live in Pleasanton and would be very appreciative of any recommendations for a psychiatrist that has successfully worked with children who are anxious (we can drive a bit if necessary). We are also open to psychologist recommendations for CBT but I do want to establish a connection with an MD so that if medication is necessary, we can begin that process. 

    Secondly, in the meantime, we are in crisis and cannot function. Has anyone experienced this and can you offer any suggestions or advice for us to cope in the meantime? Below I will list what we have/are already doing.

    -Cuddle him at night with a solid bedtime routine.

    -Talk during the day about strategies he can use at night along with talking out loud about his fears to reduce their charge a bit. 

    -Practice mindfulness activities during the day/at night.

    -Do guided meditations together (put your thought on a leaf and watch it float downstream, etc etc).

    -Over the counter CBD oil and Melatonin 1mg.

    -Reduce processed wheat/sugar at bedtime and/or throughout the whole day when possible.

    -Offer him $20 to sleep in his own bed and not wake us up.

    -Allow him to sleep on the floor next to our bed.

    -Sleep in his bed with him.

    -Sleep on the floor outside his door.

    -Put him in his bed and hold the door closed while you and your husband argue about the "right" way to handle things until he is yelling and you are crying and it feels like you will never sleep, feel rested or be happy again. 

    Oh wise parents, please help. 

    I feel for you, I have been through something similar with my now 9.5 year old boy. It is very stressful for the parents. The good news is, my son sleeps now, and yours will too but we definitely intervened. You're on the right track with getting a psychiatrist involved but you can also get prescriptions from your pediatrician if that will happen faster. Step 1: Everyone needs to sleep. Get a prescription ASAP or up the melatonin for him (confirming w pediatrician) and in the meantime, one parent sleeps in a different room with a locked door in order to be rested the next day. Take turns with that. Step #2: Your CBT-lite approach with talking about the fears & mindfulness app is fine. It's not hurting. But it really doesn't replace therapy with a qualified professional, and that could be a MSW or a psychologist - the therapy needs to be administered by someone who clicks with your son, and it may or may not be the person who can also prescribe the medicine; proceed on both fronts. Step #3: Everyone mentally prepare to acknowledge your son has anxiety, which seems like it will be pretty soon confirmed by a doctor. It is not the end of the world and actually getting the diagnosis helped us contextualize our son's fears & nighttime (mis)behavior.  But it was a very hard time - I'm blanking on how long his sleeplessness period was - maybe around a year where 3-4x/week he was awake very late (11 or 12) and then roaming around the house in the middle of the night at some point.

    Save your $20s and don't sleep on the floor. The same way that you wouldn't treat a physical illness with only home remedies, don't hesitate on the way to getting your son the help he needs. For our son, he had individual therapy at 6, group therapy for anxious kids at Kaiser around 7-8, and sporadic individual therapy since then as other issues came to the forefront that he was being treated for anyway. It ebbs and flows; we have seen panic attacks emerge in the last year; BUT, he does for the most part sleep at night now. He takes Prozac & tenex (which has a drowsiness side benefit), and we are very firm on bedtime routine and schedule - we don't let him stay up late on weekends. I have not tried CBD oil or diet modifications for my son. As with the melatonin, consult your doctor. And when you do talk to your doctor, don't downplay ANYTHING. Tell him or her exactly everything you told BPN. They need the whole picture, including the impact on siblings, school, work, etc.

    Good luck.

    Hello, I'm a parent and a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with children who have anxiety. It would be very tough to explain through text but you need to develop an understanding of the way anxiety works. My suggestion is that you read "Freeing Your Child From Anxiety" by Tamar Chansky and take him to see a psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety. This can absolutely be corrected without medicating.

    My 6 year old also went through bedtime fears and the Kaiser psychiatric intake counselor recommended these books:

    What to Do When You Dread Your Bed: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Problems With Sleep

    What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety

    Hope they help your son!

    You are way past the "maybe" stage of needing professional help, and given the crisis that all of you are in, especially this little boy, I would get him to one of the many excellent therapists who specialize in anxiety this week. I will recommend Sarah Campbell (510) 250-7483 and she can recommend someone closer to you if needed. 

    In the meantime, many of your ideas are good (NOT melatonin or CBD oil, which are inappropriate for kids unless under a pediatrician's care). My own son became very anxious around 8 years old with similar fears, but to a much reduced extent, so I hear you on this. I would allow him to sleep next to your bed for 1 month, as part of mastering his fear and everyone getting sleep. The deal is - its for a limited time and he may not get up more than once, to quickly use the bathroom and return if absolutely necessary. Then, teach him ways to return to sleep by using (for example) the Headspace app and the sleep module and anxiety module. Young kids can enjoy these - not only the kid versions. These have been helpful in my family. Coach him in the daytime to come up with return to sleep strategies - have him come up with some. A stuffed animal. A nightlight. And explain that your entire family needs help together, and youre finding a family therapist to help everyone. I agree with the previous poster to get your pediatrician on board immediately. This is way outside the norm and the poor little guy needs help.

    We moved (about 4 blocks, from an apartment to a house) when my daughter was 10. She was extremely sensitive to the lower security of not having shared-wall neighbors; she started sleep-walking, including opening the front door and calling out for me, as if I had left her. Our solution was that we moved her mattress on to the floor of my room. She slept there for about a month until she was ready to move into her own room.

     I feel for you and your poor son. He’s clearly terrified. I suggest getting professional help asap. Could be more than anxiety, perhaps OCD in which case reassurance is contraindicated and will not help but actually foster continuing fear. Both UCSF and Stanford have pediatric psychiatry clinics with experts. Even if you have Kaiser, I’d go to a major clinic for diagnosis. They do a thorough workup. Kaiser is ill equipped to handle other than run of the mill anxiety and will focus on meds rather than a firm diagnosis or appropriate and long term, if needed, therapy. KP is being sued on this in Alameda Co (class action) and the state DMHC has been investigating its inadequacies as well. I know all this from personal experience. Hope your son gets the help he needs. 

    I agree that mental health help is warranted, but also wanted to note that a security alarm system might address the fear - we pay $14.99/mo for Simplisafe. If a door opens, a beeping starts, and then if the alarm isn’t disabled it goes off and notifies police. I wish my parents had something like this when I was growing up, I would have slept much easier. Every time I hear a weird noise at night, I remember the alarm system and I can go back to sleep. Good luck!

    Oh Mama, you are doing a good job! The nine to ten year change is a big one, which brings up so many things for kids. They are again separating from parents, from teachers, and feeling more alone, more aware of the flaws, fallibility, and humanity of those who care for them. I would advise using Rescue Remedy before bed and after any wakings. It contains Mimulus, which is a flower essence specifically for fears. Also, have him write a little bit about his fears during the day. The handwriting process is reportedly invaluable for healing so many kinds of trauma. Lastly, use humor. Maybe you can write a play together, or just use goofy role play that lampoons bungling burglars, making the characters you create laughable. It may allow him to release some of the tension he's feeling about it. Mimulus transformed my daughter's fear of fire sirens after a fire in our apartment building when she was 2. It took a few months, but turned into a healthy fascination with fire engines. Good luck. I hope you can avoid medication!  
    --Mama Who Feels Your Pain.

    I'm really sorry to hear that. I am no expert, but I would also look into OCD with your doctor and/ or psychiatrist. That can also cause people to check things at night (doors, whether or not people are breathing). There is pharmaceutical and behavioral treatment that helps with OCD. Unfortunately I do not know of therapists in your area that work with children but this website https://iocdf.org/ has a lot or resources. 

    My take on this is different than the first response you got. I have 3 kids and around age 9, they all experienced a period of @ a year or two where they had trouble sleeping and were more anxious. My youngest is almost 12 now and seems to be coming out the other side. In hindsight, my feeling is that it is a hormonal/developmental/pre-puberty stage. If you look up Rudolph Steiner and google "9 year change" you will find lots of interesting info on what he thought this stage was. In a nutshell, he thought that @ age nine, kids experience the end of childhood innocence. This made sense to me. At @ nine, our kids start to become aware of the bigger world outside their immediate circle (politics, natural disasters, more complex social dynamics at school, etc). This realization can be frightening and anxiety-inducing. With my kids, I made sure they/we stuck to a routine as much as possible. We brainstormed about what would be relaxing and then did it - it was different for each kid. With one, it was candles and tea before bed. With my youngest, letting the dog sleep on his bed and those bach flower lemon-flavored pellets https://www.amazon.com/Bach-Rescue-Remedy-Natural-Pastilles/dp/B00IECA1RI?th=1 have been very helpful. No solution was perfect, but they all helped each child feel like they were controlling the anxiety and not the other way around. Also, I talked to them a lot-why they were feeling anxious, how it was making me stressed, that growing up is stressful but also positive and amazing, because they are going to discover who they are. I would have a family meeting and tell your kid you and Dad have not been handling it well and you are going to re-set and work through it together, and brainstorm solutions together. The more you can portray to your kid that you are confident he/you are going to weather this successfully, ythe easier you will move through it. Good luck! 

    First of all, my sympathies go out to you.  Your situation sounds very difficult.  I know this may not be the entire solution to your problem, but have you thought about getting a dog?  A dog might be able to keep your son company at night and comfort him when he awakens so that he doesn't feel the same need to wake you up repeatedly.  And you may be able to persuade your son that the dog will bark and wake you all up should anything untoward occur at night, alleviating your son of the need to keep watch.  I'm not a therapist/medical professional, obviously, but wanted to share this idea with you.

    Good luck--

    We had a somewhat similar situation, although ours was caused by an actual person who started harassing our family (to the extent we had to get a restraining order).  What made our son feel better was (a) getting security cameras installed, (b) putting bars on some of our windows, and (c) getting a dog.

    I realize bars may not be an option for everyone, and cameras may not be an option or may be cost-prohibitive, but have you considered the dog angle?  Not only did it make our son feel better about the safety of our house, it has given our family an awesome new member.


    cognitive behavioral therapy is effective for this.   There is a therapist on piedmont ave that specializes in anxiety    It has taken over and he needshelp  

    Wow this sounds rough.  I have no personal experience like this, but I just wanted to say that this sounds complicated and difficult enough that it may be worthwhile to contact a sleep consultant.  I don't know anyone who works with older kids (we used Angelique Millette as a sleep consultant when our son was an infant) but I'm SURE they exist.  Good luck.

    So sorry for your family. My daughter had a lot of anxieties - hers was a round fire and how to escape if there was a fire. She could not sleep and stuck to Me like glue for a long time.  It sounds like your son has True anxiety - maybe OCD as well.  It helps to know that it is not in his control- he is. Not trying to be difficult and probably hates the way he feels. I suggest therapy and medication asap- along with being loving and reassuring of course. Good luck

    It seems that you are doing such a good job reassuring your son, even though it´s exhausting. He will get better and he will get to sleep through the night in your new home. 

    I recommend getting your son some professional help, it will be good for you all. You´ll probably hear all about the cognitive changes in that age, where they suddenly are able to acknowledge "real" and very frightening threats (it might as well be environmental issues, health issues, violence etc). Their probability calculus is just missing from the reasoning. I´m sure you´ve already been talking with him about it, as well as highlighting that it is your responsibility as a parent to keep him safe. Frightening feelings and frightening thoughts are scary, but that do not mean that they are true or worth listening to. Keep in mind how strong feelings have a tendency to be infective...it sounds that your child´s fear have created strong feelings within you to (both parents!). Be sure "to keep calm and carry on", and really model for your child that he has no need to worry; his parents are on top of things. As a parent you are fully able to hold his feelings and lend your patience to him, and eventually he will feel better.

    From what you are writing, I seems to me that you are already doing a whole lot, remember to give it time. The best of luck to you and your son! <3 

    I’m so sorry you are going through such challenging times. When we moved into our new home we had locksmith update our front door lock to make it more secure. Perhaps this kind of reassurance might be helpful?

    You moved into a new house? Does that mean new carpet and fresh paint? The toxic off-gassing can cause anxiety. I recommend opening the windows, getting an air cleaner with lots of carbon (I like EL Foust) and spending lots of time outdoors in green spaces. In addition, get rid of air fresheners, stop using perfume and  use only fragrance-free cleaning products and personal care products. These things can have a far larger impact on health and well-being than people realize. It may take awhile to help, but if it does, it is worth it. 

    I hope you all get some sleep soon. 

    That sounds like such a difficult situation! My heart goes out to all three of you. It sounds like you've already tried many good things. My only thought was to add the ritual of going around and locking all the doors and windows and closing any blinds. Perhaps you or your husband can do this while the other one cuddles with him on the couch, so he can see and hear you doing this.

    From a nervous system perspective, his sounds like it's on very high alert/flight and fright. It's possible working with someone trained in working with anxiety via the nervous system, such as a Somatic Experiencing practitioner who works with children, might be something to explore. Helping him develop a sense of internal safety will be key, along with being able to tolerate uncomfortable sensations/emotions.

    I love peoples' idea of getting a dog (though realize that adds more work to your plate, too). A creature he can co-regulate with who serves as a "protective shield" might be really wonderful.

    Wishing your family the best as you navigate through this.

    People posted a lot of good ideas that will help in the long term, but right now life is very difficult for you and your child. Up the melatonin asap and ask your md about giving him an over the counter sleep medicine (they are all antihistamines). For the short term everyone will be sleeping. You can't make good decisions when everyone is sleep deprived.

    I haven't experienced this as a parent, but did as a kid, and struggled with it for years.  I think it stemmed from growing up with really high-profile kidnappings, like Michaela, Polly Klass, Jenny Lin.  Every creak of the house settling caused a spike of anxiety, and if the motion-detector went on outside, I would bolt up and stare out the window expecting to see an intruder.  I would try to remind myself that it's normal for old houses to make noises, and that our yard bordered open space so many animals came through our yard.  I made up little chants and prayers and repeated them over and over.  I did get up and go to my parents a lot.  I don't remember how it got better, but eventually it did -- until in my early 20's I was held up at gunpoint while walking to BART.  I think it was a PTSD response, but the anxiety only came on while trying to go to bed, and would sometimes cause hyperventilating/panic attacks.  I did eventually go to Kaiser for anxiety and that was helpful.  But probably the most helpful thing for me was one night when I was really afraid, my boyfriend (now husband) convinced me we should go out and drive around the neighborhood at night to demonstrate that it was okay.  I don't know why, but seeing the peaceful neighborhood and even normal people walking their dogs out and about at night helped a lot.  Maybe it gave me a new thing to imagine instead of my mind always going to shadowy figures lurking in corners waiting to break in.  

    I feel for you and your son and wish you guys the best.  I also think it's wonderful that you are trying to get him help, wish my parents would have thought of that, ha!

    Hi!  If you'd prefer a less allopathic approach to start, my friends have had great success with curbing their children's anxieties through acupuncture, homeopathy, and flower essences.  It's a holistic approach that treats the body, mind, and spirit.  Especially if he wasn't an anxious child before this one trigger, it seems like he just needs help around this instance instead of a lifetime of prescriptions and medications. I recommend Jill Stevens, L.Ac., at Whole Family Wellness Center -- she specializes in pediatrics and offers all the above modalities that I mentioned in addition to herbs and nutrition.  I've seen her personally for years and have multiple friends and their children who are her patients as well.  She is ver y knowledgeable with a an office that is warm and geared toward children.  You could also think about utilizing both allopathic and holistic treatment simultaneously?  

    I just wanted to respond quickly to the "husband yelling" parts of your post. I can definitely relate and encourage you to include resolving this parenting conflict with your husband in the professional help you get. Your husband needs to learn to stop yelling. Anger is not an appropriate response of a parent to child with these psychological issues. Did your husband get angry at your son when he was a baby and woke you up? Your son is not "choosing" to have anxiety and to engage in these behaviors, frustrating as they may be. Maybe I am projecting my own experience onto your situation, but in my case my husband actually thought "getting angry" was an appropriate consequence for our daughter's actions (not anxiety to the extent of your son, but related.) He also continued to use this kind of behaviorist approach (rewards and consequences) long after it became clear that she did not have conscious control over her actions in such a way as to make rewards and punishments an effective approach. It sounds like your husband has a similar understanding of your son's actions as being under your son's control, which is why is is getting angry. Maybe if he understood the situation differently, and had more tools in his parenting toolkit, he could be more empathetic to your son and would not get so angry at him. I'm sure your husband's anger is contributing to *your* stress (and his!), and not helping the situation. I really feel for all 3 of you. It looks like you have gotten a lot of good advice and I'm sure you will be able to come out of crisis mode soon! Wishing you all the best!

    You've gotten a lot of good advice. Just wanted to mention that the podcast Mom and Dad are Fighting interviewed a childhood anxiety specialist that I found illuminating:


    I just want to second the idea of getting a dog.  My kid was also waking every night around age 8-9.  We got a dog; s/he has slept through the night ever since.  The dog sleeps on the bed.  They are both very happy. I think the dog is both company and security. 

  • I am looking for a Psychiatrist in or near Oakland, for a Medication Evaluation for my daughter who is 9 years old and has been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.



    Hello Emily,

    I have twin daughters that are 17-1/2 years old. When one twin was a toddler she began suffering from anxiety. It got so bad in kindergarten than her teacher suggested she see a therapist. She saw Dr. Fortunee Kayra-Stuart in Berkeley. Dr. Stuart is a psychologist with extensive pharmacology knowledge. She prefers to work with children through play and she's exceptional. So if your daughter doesn't need to be medicated, perhaps Dr. Stuart can help. She's currently vacationing in Alaska. She migrated from Greece in the 60's, is married and raised two very accomplished daughters. She's also a mediator for the courts, she's in her 80's, dynamic, loving, and very good at what she does. After seeing her weekly for 18 months, my daughter was just about cured of her anxiety. Dr. Stuart really knows what she's doing. She will work with the entire family to advocate for her little patients. She will teach your daughter coping skills to get her through the rough patches.

    My other daughter suffers from major depressive disorder and social phobia. Diagnosed by East Bay Family Institute (eastbayfamilyinstitute.com) just before her 12th birthday. The testing took two afternoons and the testing technician is Liz Walser, she is extraordinary. Because my daughter needed medication, she saw a couple of male psychiatrist that I would not recommend. Old guys. East Bay Family Institute director, Dr. Lesleigh Franklin, Ph.D, recommended I find another psychiatrist. I searched high and low and found  Dr. Amber Lerma, Cal and UCSF grad. Dr. Lerma is affiliated with Pacific Coast Psychiatric Associates, website at bottom. Her office is located in Walnut Creek, (they have more than one office). Dr. Lerma is excellent and my daughter is very happy with her. She interviewed my husband and me for two sessions before meeting and working with our daughter. She's also a mother of two very young boys so she's well aware of the issues we all face as parents.

    Good luck Emily. It's challenging raising children in the current environment we find ourselves in, but you're doing the right thing to reach out to others who may have had similar childrearing experiences. Hang in there.


Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions (in order by age)

Scared 5 year-old wants company at night

Nov 2009

Our son still wants company while falling asleep and if he wakes up in the night...I know the usual advice is to gradually move away so the kid gets used to the by-yourself way. However he is so scared of ghosts with long white fingers (shiver!) in the crawl-space in his room and other stuff we are reluctant to just have him tough it out. Any ideas? Thank you! Kristine

You don't have to have a goal of your son going to bed by himself. To help him with the fears, you can play in ways that will help him laugh. It might take a lot of laughing, a lot of times, but it can be fun and you'll see him feel more powerful. You can help him make up funny things to do to the ghosts - sneeze on them, cover them with snot...feed them gross foods...

About wanting company, when my son was almost 3 and my husband and I were wiped out from going to him at night when he woke up and wanted company, I finally found the solution that's still working great 4 years later. He gets to have company, and we have privacy until we go to sleep. We got a folding foam mattress that we put away during the day and put down in our bedroom with his sleeping bag on it when we go to bed. He goes to bed in his room with company (one of us or sometimes a babysitter), and when he wakes up in the night and wants company, he can get in the bed in our room. He doesn't wake us up, just comes in, gets in his sleeping bag, and knows we are all there together. If he wakes up before we go to bed, we take him back to his bed, and he goes back to sleep knowing he can come join us later. It's great to wake up in the same room in the morning. Julie

5-year-old feels scared all the time

Jan 2008

Tonight at dinner my almost 5 and 1/2 year old said, ''I feel scared all the time.'' I asked her about what, and she said she didn't know. I told her she didn't look or act scared and she said, ''But my body feels scared.'' She said this very matter of factly. I know I don't have to take immediate action, but it concerned me a lot. I grew up as a very anxious child (which I always attributed to my father moving out when I was 7 and my preoccupied mother) - and I am worried that maybe she too will have anxiety. I'm wondering if anyone else has had any experience with this. In general she otherwise seems perfectly normal and well adjusted - is friendly with people she meets, has friends, etc. thanks. worried mom

I hope you'll take your daughter to her pediatrician for a check-up. When you mentioned that she said ''my body feels scared,'' it made me wonder if her heart is racing.

Hi, I have some experience with this as my now 18 yr old daughter has an anxiety disorder. When she was around six she started to worry about throwing up and eating too much sugar. I thought this was quirky, but wasn't immediately alarmed. When it began to escalate, I took her to a therapist. Her anxiety increased with talk therapy, and she began having panic attacks. I then took her to Dr. Robert Epstein in Berkeley and he made the diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. She has been treated with medication at times of stress and has also done a fair amount of Cognitive behavior therapy with Jody Roberts in Berkeley. I believe this combination has been the most helpful to her. She is doing well and away at college. It can run in families as my mother suffered from anxiety as well. I think if it begins to interfere with your child's life and happiness, it is worth having evaluated by an expert. Dr. Epstein's # 848-0900. Jody Roberts # 507-4167. They have both been unbelievably smart,kind and helpful. Good luck to you and your child.

5-year-old is anxious about crowds of children

Oct 2003

I recently found out that my almost 5-year old boy withdraw himself from a large group of kids. I am not sure if it is normal or if there is anything I can help him.

My 5-year-old always needs time to warm up in a new environment. He cried for almost 2 weeks when he started kindergarten in August. His answer to me is always missing daddy and mommy. On Saturday afternoon, we (myself, 5-year old and 2-year boys) were playing in a school playground. He has been fine with other kids (a few) around him. By the time we were ready to leave, a group of kids (about 30 kids, maybe 4-7 yrs old) rushed into the playground and they launched to the climbing structure immediately. Originally I was worried about my 2-yr but he was ok. My 5-yr then asked me to leave and go to another small playground. He said they were wild. On the way home, we talked about his adjustment to kindergarten and this time he told me he has been afriad of his new friends.

My 5-yr is not really shy. When he feels comfortable or gets used to the new environment, he talks a lot and is very active.

I think I am not sure how to look at this? Should I be more supportive to his readiness? Or is there anything I can help him to deal with his anxiety/fear of a large group of kids? I think I am also concerned if he needs our help to build up his confidence. Yet I am not sure if it is ok to expose him to this situation (I thought he might get used to). Anon

I was once a kindergarten teacher and this was quite common among many of my students, particularly in the first months of school. Young children often find groups stressful. One thing that I suggested to parents was to set up playdates with classmates outside of school. Having these special connections to his peers will help ease that anxiety. Also,(if you haven't already) let his teacher know what he is expressing to you. This awareness will help his teacher pay particular attention to his needs. Take care. Shoshana


I don\x92t think anything is wrong with your son. Children all have different levels of sensitivity. A large group of children running out at recess could be overwhelming to lots of kids.

It sounds like you\x92re doing the right thing by talking with him and listening to his feelings. Getting an understanding of his comfort level will do worlds of good for both of you.

I think there is a fine line between encouraging our children to push their \x93comfort envelope\x94 and respecting their natural tendencies. I had a friend who was scared of the water as a kid. Her dad\x92s solution was to take her out in a boat in the middle of the lake and throw her in. Needless to say, that didn\x92t help her want to swim.

Just continue to watch him play. The adjustment to Kindergarten is a big one and it sounds like he\x92ll be fine with his small group of friends and the larger group as a whole once he\x92s been there for a while.

6 Year Old Son's Anxiety/Fears

April 2012

I am a separated mom, worried about my anxious 6 year old son. His dad and I have been separated more than a year, and it was amicable - but 3 mos ago my ex moved back in with us, for economic reasons. There has been much more tension, altho there are nice times too, and we are aligned around parenting 75% of the time.

But my son's behavior has changed a lot. He's a very high spirited, fun, confident kid in many ways - but he has always been anxious too. At 5 1/2 (when we first moved out), he became very anxious and fearful of being far from me in the new house. When his dad moved in and things between us became more tense, my son's worries became much worse. He's 6 1/2 now, and frets incessantly about robbers and bad guys sneaking into our house at night, witches and monsters. He has had nightmares and night fears, and I now let him sleep on a mattress in ''our'' (my) room - which has helped. But he has become much more emotional, tearful, angry and defiant. He tells us he wishes he weren't part of this family, wishes we weren't his parents, hates us, we're mean, etc. This is usually in response to simple things like not getting his way about something (genuinely) minor. We both try very hard to be patient and kind with him, and to model affection when we can. But his dad is dark and worried about work, often, I'm stressed, and my son seems dramatically less happy these days.

I see from the BPN archives that many 6 year olds have fears. But of course I assume most of the problem is our family situ. Has anyone weathered something like this? What helped? I am open to any suggestions. I am open to suggestions for therapists as well. I have interviewed several and have not found one I trust. I know we need help, but I'd also like to hear any opinions from the community. Thanks ...

Hi there, I'm so sorry to hear about your son's struggles with anxiety and the way it has impacted you. It sounds like you've been doing everything you can think of to comfort him and model the kind of behavior you'd like to see from him. It's clear that you care about him and want him to feel confident and secure. He's lucky to have you thinking about him and looking for resources. That's huge.

It must be so hard to see him struggle. You absolutely need and deserve support with what's going on. Do you know about the Parent Support Hotline at Family Paths? It's a 24-hour parent support line where people are available to listen to how things are going, possibly providing referrals, as appropriate. 800-829-3777, familypaths.org

What he experienced in the period of separation where you lived separately from his father was a very scary sense of loss. It makes sense that he's playing these feelings out now from day to day, though it must be terribly difficult to see him so anxious considering how much you love him!

I don't have a therapist to refer you to, but think it's a great idea to bring someone in that can give him a space to process these feelings and support his attachments to you and his dad. When you do find someone, I'd recommend looking for someone with experience in ''attachment-focused,'' ''attachment-centered,'' or ''dyadic therapy.''

If you have time, there's a book worth reading called Attachment-Focused Parenting by Daniel Hughes. You may also want to look into Parenting by Connection articles, support groups, and classes from a nonprofit called Hand in Hand Parenting. Hughes' book is a dense read, but very helpful in learning to support your child's attachment to you and his dad.

It's worth mentioning that, with support, it's completely possible for him to process through these feelings and recover fully - over time he can feel more confident and secure in your love and the knowledge that he has your love and his dad's for life. That, in fact, is the purpose of attachment-focused/dyadic therapy. Good luck, and take care. Lindsay

6-yr-old daughter is scared sometimes of my eyes

Sept 2011

My 6-yr-old daughter is scared sometimes of my eyes. I'm really alarmed at this and hope BPN can help. We adopted her from Guatemala at 6 months. She had a loving foster family. She bonded quickly with us, but was sad and scared at first, common for kids in her situation. We couldnt leave her alone to sleep or she'd wake up terrified. She never took a nap alone, and was never alone at night until age 3; we co-slept until she was 5. She still falls asleep in my arms, and crawls into our bed to snuggle with me every night. I've ended up being a stay-at-home Mom because of this; not my plan, but I'm happy to help her feel more secure. We are kind, gentle, snuggly parents, playing with her and reading a lot, rarely punishing her (partly because she's a really good kid), not raising our voices much less hitting when we are mad, etc. About the worst she gets is, ''I don't like it when you ___,'' and, ''Please go get a rag and help me wipe this up.''

At age 4 she began having issues that the adoption literature says are common, such as misery on her birthday and fear of abandonment (e.g., thinking my husband and I might break up). We've been able to deal with these issues so far. One of the fears she had at 4 was that I'd been replaced by somebody who looked just like me (like the Pod People). She rarely mentions her birth-father and never worried about her forever-dad being replaced by some evil twin; all this is mom-oriented.

She says the scary-eyes fear doesn't have to do with the mom-replacement fear. When it happens I ask her to mash my face around, pull my cheeks, etc. while looking at the scary eyes, hoping to desensitize her via making fun of my face.

The kicker is that I do sometimes have scary eyes. My eyes look just like my Dad's, and as he got wrinkly, he sometimes looked like a reptile. As I get older (now in my 50's) my eyes are doing much the same. Maybe if I got a face lift.C,B&

Any suggestions? Really a mammal Momb

You sound like a wonderful, devoted mother with a common problem for a 6-year-old. Just yesterday my daughter (who I happened to give birth to) said that out of the corner of her eye when she was playing with her brother she saw the real me sneak away and get ''replaced by a skinny beast mom''. She has also told me several times that my eyes scare her at night (my eyes are big in proportion to my other features). She doesn't have these issues with her father. She also burst into tears a few months ago when I said matter-of- factly that she would live in her own place when she grew up. She cried and cried at the concept. I felt so bad. Mothers are just everything at this age. I don't think your daughter's fears are due to the adoption or your appearance since I experience the same kinds of issues. Don't feel you have to get a face lift!

No advice, but you sound like an excellent, wonderful, warm mother. I think your daughter is very, very lucky. I am sure she will get over the scary eye thing. I think we all wish we had a mother like you. Oh, you might want to try acupuncture if you want a natural face lift (I don't know if it works never having tried it myself). Best of luck

First of all, you sound like such a sensitive, wonderful parent whom your daughter is so lucky to have. I think your approach of trying to desensitize her to the eye fear is right, and I think it's so great you don't take it personally. Maybe add to the effect by getting out hand mirrors, and making silly faces together. You could even let her put face paint on you. Ultimately, it sounds like you have the right instincts and this will be a temporary phase.

Here's the thing that I wanted to share when I read your post, though. Don't make too much of the pod person fear. It may be common among adopted kids, but I had the same fear about my biological, loving mom when I was just about that age. I thought she and my grandma who lived with us and who was never anything but ridiculously indulgent, might secretly be witches who were just acting nice to trick me. I saw The Wizard of Oz too early, and I was a very imaginative kid. It wasn't quite that I thought this was true as much as the what-if scenario occurred to me and I couldn't quite dismiss it. I thought, well, how would I know? If they were real witches, they'd be very good at disguising it, etc. In time, this fixation passed on its own.

It was a real fear, so I am not saying don't take your daughter's worries seriously. What I am saying is do not necessarily conclude that it is because she was adopted or that it reflects a deficit in your bond with her. I was always and am still close to my mother. Your daughter is probably bright and imaginative and perhaps slightly nervous in temperament. For all kids, four is an imaginative, wild age. Kids that age think of all kinds of crazy things, some of them dark, and they aren't yet very good and sorting real from pretend, life from dreams, etc. The fact that she tells you these worries seems like a good sign. I think she's bringing you into her fears because she trusts you to reassure her and ultimately lead her out of them. Anon

I recommend a good play therapist like Diane Ehrensaft, PhD to help untangle the web. Good Luck

I'm sure this must be upsetting for both of you. I had an idea about you and your daughter playing with glitter and bindis (the Indian stickers that you can put on your face). Maybe when she is afraid of your eyes you can let her help you use these beautiful colors and sparkles to decorate around your eyes. You could create a ritual where you could transform her fear into an opportunity to connect with you physically and empower her to work it out artistically. You could imbue the gitter, eye liner and bindis with magical powers that bring light and love into your eyes and neutralize whatever is scaring her.

Obviously you have a very close and loving relationship with your daughter. Hopefully this can be an opportunity for you to get even closer by helping her learn to overcome her fears. If you would like support, I can recommend a wonderful therapist who is amazing at helping children work with their imaginations. Kaibrina

Hi, My daughter was also adopted from Guatemala and came home at 6 months. She was also in a loving foster home. All that said a lot of your post I could relate to. My daughter has had sleep issues (a lot of sleep issues) and some anxiety around being adopted. Though it has not manifested in the same way as yours. Our pediatrician Dr. Julie Damon (who is also adopted) suggested we see an alternative healer in Marin.

This may make me sound like the worst parent ever, but I put it off for a year because I just couldn't fathom driving to Marin for regular appointments. Let me say I wish I hadn't. His name is Stephen Zilber and I was really amazed at the results. With our daughter is was a stomach ache issue. Every time we got in car she got car sick, sometimes actually vomiting, sometimes just crying. I mean if we drove a block. Finally I broke down and made an appointment because I couldn't figure out how to live our life with out getting in a car. The entire way to Marin she was saying she was going to throw up. I kid you not I have not heard one word about being sick to her stomach since the first appointment. She also sleeps through the night now and bedtime now takes 15 minutes versus a hour.

He has given us some homeopathic remedies and a nightly back massage routine. We see him once a month or every couple of months.

Fearful/cautious 6 year old

Dec 2008

I have a wonderful daughter who is very caring. I worry that she is too fearful at times, especially when it comes to doing new physical activities. She is on the shorter side, so that can be part of it. We see this most at playgrounds. She tends to be cautious and give up on climbing and makes excuses for not doing the activities. There was a time when she was more willing to go up to the taller slide and go down, but for the last 2 or so years, she hesitates. I don't think that she has had any bad experience or major falls.

I try coaching her, model it and ask her to watch the other kids (I will point out that a shorter child was able to do it). Other times I just let her be and hope that she will build her confidence on her own. My worry is that she will get more hesitant and fearful and this will negatively impact her social development. I also don't know how much I should push her to do more.

We have her in gymnastics and she has a fantastic teacher. He challenges her to try and she usually is very receptive to his direction/encouragement. She has come a long way in this class (again much more cautious then other children). I can tell that she feels great when she does something that she sees as a challenge and has a sad look when she gives up.

I love her cautious side but I do think it is a bit too much. When I talk to other parents I usually get the ''you should appreciate this!'' (which I do).

Any suggestions?? worried mom of a worried child

I'd say encourage her, but in NO WAY push her. Parents who push their kids end up taking the fun right out of whatever activity they are pushing their children to do (just think about how YOU would feel if some one were pushing you to do something, even something that you already liked!). It is one of the things that results in kids losing interest in things.

My daughter is not fearful, but can be quite cautious, so I really try to be encouraging without pushing. I let her know that I think she CAN do something, but if she is insistent she doesn't want to try it, or doesn't want to try without our help, I let it go. I make sure to be encouraging in a cheerful, upbeat way, and not express disappointment if she doesn't want to try something new, or really wants assistance from one of us (my husband and I).

Also, I recently read about some child-development research that was done that found that over-praising kids can result in them feeling reluctant to try new things and take risks. (I imagine that this would be more likely to occur with kids who already have a cautious temperament.) My understanding of the theory was that the kids see the praise as a sign of their parents approval and that to continue to receive that approval, they believe they must always succeed (after all, when else do we praise them, except when they've done something we like, or they have successfully accomplished something?).

My point is to maybe pay attention to when, and how much you praise her and consider if it's possible that praising choices may be a contributing factor. The recommendation was to be more neutral in our comments, rather than making a big deal praising our children when they do something: acknowledge it by saying something like ''wow, that's the highest I've ever seen you swing on the swings'' rather than ''you're getting so good on the swings!'' The idea being that the second kind of phrase can subtly apply pressure to the child, having them feel that it's important to be ''good'' at all of the things they do, and therefore reluctant to try new things, in case they're NOT good at them (because then they won't get our praise/approval).

It was certainly food for thought for me, and I've tried to incorporate that principle in how I work with my daughter. Perhaps you will find it helpful to consider, too? Mom of a (somewhat) Cautious Kid

Your kid sounds exactly like my kid, who is now in college. I'd like to reassure you! My daughter was cautious from birth. At 2 years old I told her nanny never to say 'no' if she ever wanted to get physically adventurous - like climbing to the top of the sofa (she never did). Even at 4 she went down the six stairs at her pre-school on her bottom! It was baffling to me - but I just chalked it up to the quirkiness of innate traits. I was amused more than worried. She too had a wonderful nurturing gymnastics teacher for a year in pre-school who accepted her where she was and gently nudged her to take on incremental challenges. She enjoyed it, but she was still basically extremely cautious.

Then she went to camp at age 8 and she volunteered to be the first one to try the climbing wall! Why that happened then, who knows? But she was thrilled with herself. She's never looked back. Since then she's become an avid outdoor adventurer. She has done lots of rock wall climbing, backpacking, cycling, rafting, even glaciering and ice climbing, and is now a varsity athlete.

So... there is hope for your daughter. My one bit of parent-to- parent advice would be to not project your worries and concerns so she won't pick up on them and this becomes an ''issue'' for her. That includes ''pushing'' her to do more. I think this can backfire by creating performance anxiety on top of her normal fears. Showing confidence and pleasure in what she's doing will do more to boost her self-confidence than subtle criticism or worrying that she's not doing more. Continue to show delight in her, whatever she does or doesn't do, while offering her plenty of opportunities to expand her comfort zone. For my kid, I did almost nothing and believed in my kid and it worked out. Maybe we were just lucky, but this is my two cents. Hope this helps reassure you. Fear-no-more mom

6-year-old afraid of kidnappers, robbers, death, aging, etc.

Oct 2006

My six year old daughter is afraid to be left alone in any room in our house. She always wants to play within my sight. I haven't been overly concerned about this, but recently she said she hates being afraid. And what she is afraid of is kidnappers or robbers in the house. I've tried explaining that we are safe. And that I can protect her. She wants to lock all the doors and windows. I've started to give her a little advice about being safe or protecting herself. But this seems to raise anxiety. I've tried saying that kidnapping almost never happens. I am not paranoid about these issues myself. And her exposure to media, esp. television is very limited. I have no idea where she learned the word kipnapper. What she wants me to say is that there are no such things as kidnappers. I've been temped to indulge her, because I hate to see her suffering with this fear/anxiety. But I don't want to lie to her. Telling her simply, ''please don't worry about this,'' doesn't work. She's actually not afraid of strangers on the street, and is outgoing and social generally. All her fears surface at night, close to bedtime, when she (and myself for that matter,) is easily distraught. Other fears of hers include fear of aging and death. (She wishes she was still five.) She also has a medical condition that could be life threatening, and I'm not really sure how much fear stems from that. Any ideas about what to say, or how to approach these issues are much appreciated Anxious about her anxiety

My 16-yr-old daughter has always been the same as your daughter about kidnappers. She still does not like to be left alone in the house. She is very intuitive, so her fears easily became my own. My own mother was very anxious and over-protective and I didn't want my daughter to grow up like that. I want my daughter to have a healthy awareness, without contantly living in fear. What really helped her was Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Her therapist (April Wise in Orinda) taught her how to self-sooth when she was very anxious. EMDR is used to help people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some play therapy and EMDR worked wonders. Mother of an anxious girl, too :-)

You and your daughter are not alone. My daughter is seven years old, and also suffers from acute anxiety and fear, and wants me to lock the doors and windows etc. She also happens to have a condition that could be life-threatening, and will someday require surgery--so our families have that in common, too. Unfortunately, I don't have great answers for you about what to do to fix it, but i can tell you what we are now doing and are watching for the results.

Recently I have started meditating with her using a CD someone gave me called ''A Still, Quiet Place,'' produced by Amy Salzberg, M.D. It's a terrific CD that has sweet meditation exercises for kids, that range from 1 minute to 8 minutes in length. They are gentle, wise, and interesting for my daughter to do.

I think the key to helping our girls is to help them find the centered places within themselves by teaching them techniques they can refer to and actually do when they start feeling that anxiety creeping in. Our health insurance won't pay for first-rate therapy, or I would definitely do that too because it is proven to help anxious kids.

We tried the therapy clinic at UC Berkeley and that worked for a while, but it was hard for my daughter to switch therapists every year. I am looking for a meditation program specifically for children; it has been shown to work for anxious adults, and i bet that it will help children too. Best wishes Elizabeth

hi there, i don't have any ''cures'' to your daughter's fear. but i wanted to let you know that she is not alone. my six-year old, smart, athletic, well-adjusted daughter also stared having fears of robbers, kidnappers, bandits, fires, and thieves. it only happens at night, and she comes out of her room 1-2 times before finally falling asleep. no nightmares or waking in the middle of the night, thank goodness. i am thinking that it is a normal phase of life (possibly related to start of school year and/or new sibling), and i am doing my best to validate her fears without feeding into them. waiting it out

Fear is a funny thing, in that it takes such strong hold of you, but it's intangible. You need an intangible fix for the intangible problem, because she'll relate to it better.

Do a ''house protecting'' ritual by burning some sage with your daughter to ''push out all the bad energy so that bad things/people won't want to come here''. Walk around with a smoking smudge stick ('sweet grass' mixtures smell nicer and are what Native Americans used). Hold the smoking smudge thing over something to hold falling ash, and the idea is you're pushing the smoke into all parts of the house to ''chase out'' anything that doesn't belong there. Tell her the purpose of the smoke is to make people in the house safe. You can do this as often as you/she like, but maybe once a week or month (or when her fears are strongest).

Tell her to call in some invisible guardians to keep her safe (she can say it in her head - doesn't need to be out loud). Tell her to call in new guardians anytime she thinks her guardians ''need a rest''. They can be big and strong to protect her - whatever image in her head makes her feel the best.

This sounds wacky, but it could redirect her focus, so that she's not thinking about the fear, but thinking about steps to make her feel safe. fear be gone

6-year-old's bedtime worries - homeless, war, burglars, etc.

Oct 2003

My very socially-aware 6 year old has trouble falling asleep at night (I have read the advice in the archives about sleep). Because he cant sleep, I think, he starts worrying: about poor and homeless people, about war, about burglars, about storms etc. I try to focus on the positive when he brings up these issues, by talking about all the folks who are trying to improve on these situations (e.g, house the homeless, etc). I have offered for us to do volunteer work as a family, so he will feel that he is doing something to help. For the record, we DO shield him from t.v news, we DO NOT read the paper out loud. Anybody else with this kind of sensitive and empathic child find effective words or rituals to reassure them, especially at night so they can fall asleep more easily? Any relevant, calming prayers people say with their kids at night? Thanks! Mom of sensitive guy

Both our boys (ages 7 and 9) are first-degree worriers. Our approach is to provide as much support, security and reassurance as possible. Rather than having them ''go to bed,'' we just let them fall asleep in the living room on the couch - usually with one of us reading them a story. After they've been asleep for awhile, we arouse them enough to have them walk escorted to bed. Thus, they're not alone at bed time and they're otherwise distracted from their thoughts.

A few other things we've tried: you might want to try giving him a set of Worry Dolls. A quick web search yielded many places to purchase them for as little as $2. They're small figures usually in a box or bag. The Guatemalan legend is that your son gives each doll a particular issue to worry about and then places the dolls under his pillow. It's then the dolls' job to worry, not his. For starters, see http://www.globalmarketstore.com/moreworrydolls.html

Or... how about a Native American Dream Catcher? While the legend doesn't specifically address worries, it does catch the good thoughts and lets the bad ones go through. I've been told to shake it out outdoors each morning, which I think adds a nice touch. Perhaps you could adapt the concept to appeal to his imagination. Again, a little surfing lead to this interesting site: http://www.cia-g.com/~gathplac/dreamcatcher_legend.htm.

For a while, one of my sons wore a bag of ''charms'' to bed. It included a crystal rock, a St. Christopher's medal, a piece of gold, a snake pendant, etc. All things he had collected that he thought would bring him good luck and protection. He was convinced his bag had powers to ward of bad spirits that would bring many of the things he worried about in his direction.

Finally, maybe he could start a bed-time ''Worry Journal.'' Each night before he goes to sleep, you help him log what he's worried about. Just getting them out of his head might help. Then, in the light of day, you could see if he's interested in discussing them further. Over time, it might help him to see how his worries change -- or, hopefully, decrease as he realizes that he's already worried about that one! Joyce

I also have a sensitive son who starts thinking about all kinds of upsetting things as he lies awake at night. A book we have read and enjoyed is called Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go to Sleep by Joyce Dunbar. The book is not that great, but the title is, so I tell my son to think about something happy, and I might say a few things that he can enjoy thinking about, from activities we did that day, friends we spent time with recently, or some future activity we are looking forward to. When he complains about negative thoughts, I just urge him to put them aside and think about happy things. good luck

For our 6 yr old, when she was anxious last year, we would have her think of images in her head, or count up to a big number by 5s or 10s. She got to prefer the counting things to think about cuz she likes numbers. That would give her something to do with her brain rather than finding something to worry about or listen for or stress out over. We would also give her one of her larger cuddly animals to hold to her chest as that can be quite comforting. I know some people put some soft music on for their children. So stuff that gets the kids mind away for the anxiety loop, and doesn't cause other negative impacts, are good things. anon.

I don't know if I have any real helpful advice, but did share a similar experience with my sensitive boy (now 10, and just starting to fall asleep more easily). Our child's therapist (yes, we eventually got some professional help for his worries) reminded us that some kids really think a lot about issues that are really grown-up issues, and are very troubled by them. Without belittling his concerns, you can assure him that children are not responsoble for ''fixing'' these problems. We tried to have these discussions more during the day, so we could keep the bedtime responses short (''remember we talked about how grown-up people are helping homeless folks...''). We also got some gentle nature sound c.d.'s that gave him something to focus (or un-focus) on so he wouldn't have only his thoughts to listen to as he tried to fall asleep. (He still often plays these at bedtime). My husband or I did sit with him much of the time (though not always), with some reading or laundry to fold, so we were also occupied. We would let him know that we were agreeing to keep him company while he fell asleep, but not for lengthy chatting. Good luck! R.K.

With my 4 1/2 year old daughter, the last thing we do before I leave her room for the night is to cuddle on her bed and make a list of happy things for her to think about while she is falling asleep. We started this when she told me she was worried that she would have bad dreams, and I told her if she was thinking happy thoughts when she fell asleep, then she would have happy dreams. :-) Maybe something similar would work for you. Stephanie

Hi - I saw your question and felt I must offer a bit of comfort. I was that child! I worried myself sick about all the same things your child does and more. I would lay awake counting, convinced that if I was counting there wouldn't be an earthquake. This obsessive worrying did get much better in my early teens though was replaced by other issues (boys, social etc.). I am now a fairly unobsessive person though I have had my moments! Anyway, the thing that made me feel better was sleeping with my mother or father and having then promise me that nothing bad would happen. It did not help when things were explained to me (i.e. 'the chances of an earthquake/robber/war are very slim b/c blah, blah, blah). I just wanted to be reassured that I was safe and okay. Hope that helps! Sarah

I think it is great that your child is concerned and sensitive. My advice regarding the worrying is that the unknown is more worrisome than the known, and volunteering seems like a good idea to help some of the unknown become known. My children (one younger than yours and one older) and I read the newspaper and watch the news together every day. We discuss that if the event were not unusual, it would not have made the news -- good and bad news. We discuss how things could have happened, how to avoid certain situations, and that some things are beyond our control. I also try to incorporate the news into what they are doing in school -- the recall was a long lesson in civics and geography, the New York ferry crash as a math lesson (the ferry has made X number of trips with X number of passengers over the years, how many were safe?), fires are lessons in climate and not playing with matches and candles. The Food section is also full of math opportunities (how much flour would you need to make enough servings for your class?). I lost a lot of sleep over thinking about nuclear attacks and the house burning down. Somehow I got better about my worrying by realizing that there are some things within by control and somthings that are not. LC

6-year-old is afraid of stories, videos, TV, etc.

Dec 2002

My six-year-old is afraid of television, videos, and some storytellers and performances. When I tell people about this, mostly they respond as though it's good, but it is starting to effect her life, and she's self-conscious about being a ''scardy- cat.'' She's not afraid of most things but she still feels self- conscious. I've tried watching innocuous PBS shows with her, but it doesn't seem to help. She is somewhat less afraid of ''scary stories'' than she was a couple of years ago, but even now at performances she tends to panic. Otherwise she's doing fine, very imaginative and on-target at school. We've never watched much TV, ourselves, mainly because of boredom and other demands on our time, so other than kid shows the TV isn't on. mom of a scardy-cat

I think your daughter is just a sensitive person. My daughter is very similar to yours. For years we only watched very mild shows and skipped louder parts or intense characters. Recently, at age 7, she started liking the scary parts. However, we still do not see movies at the theater because they are too loud and in your face. I finally realized that she has been a more sensitive person every since she was a baby, startling at loud or sudden noises more than other babies or her younger sister. I am a bit noise-sensitive myself. There is a book out called ''The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You'' and the author has penned follow-up issues about sensitive children. Check it out. Jeanne

I had a little boy who asked to leave during a puppet show of ''Peter Rabbit'' because the farmer chasing the rabbit was scary. And during the ''1001 Dalmations'', he was on the floor of the theatre peaking through the seats. I felt that he was sensitive and not hardened and immune to TV violence since we didn't watch much. The main thing I did was to tell him that all movies have a scary part -- that's just the way they make them. We didn't watch many movies when he was little and he grew out of it. He grew out of it, but I still don't watch scary movies. Barbara

My 7 year old son is a sensitive soul. There are many images that he finds frightening. And it is ok with me. It allows us to bypass many movies, and videos. And I do screen his books for frightening images, that might not frighten other children. I recommend reading The Sensitive Child by Janet Poland. jen

6 1/2 year-old daughter has many fears

Feb 2008

My 6 1/2 year-old daughter has always been the fearful/anxious type. Some of her fears are: loud noises, especially popping noises (balloons, fireworks, yes, the auto-flush too) animals, especially dogs and birds. She is also afraid of certain TV/movie charachters, specifically Nemo and Woody from Toy Story (''because they have black eyes''), and, oh yeah, any Nutckrackers.

She's also afraid of the darkness, and there are times when she doesn't want to go anywhere in the house alone. I've always believed that these problems are due to her being highly sensitive. She is also a very bright kid, not sure if she'd qualify as gifted, but definitely very smart. She's otherwise happy and sociable.

We've tried anything from rationalizing her fears, using earplugs when we go to Bday parties, covering her eyes or ears, etc, and sometimes she copes with her fears really well, and she's able to keep it together, but sometimes she just loses it and just starts screaming.

I have a really hard time dealing with this every time it happens, and now i'ts been harder, since my 2 year-old is starting to ''copy'' her sister, and being afraid of things she didn't use to be scared of, so at times I'm dealing with two kids screaming because there's a dog, a bird or a balloon. Needless to say, every time we go out, I'm worried that there will be animals or balloons, or anything that will scare her, and I can see this situation taking over our lives sometimes. Would it be recommendable to take her to therapy? Any other options, strategies? Someone recently posted advice about EFT (the emofree website), and I checked it out, but I'm kind of skeptical. Would this kind of approach work with a girl this age? Has anyone had successful experiences dealing with this? I'd really appreciate any advice. Thank you very much in advance. need help now

Dear ''Need help now'', I have a 6 1/2 year old daughter with similar issues. I would be happy to talk to you about our experience. Feel free to contact me. eb

It is wonderful that you are aware of your little girl's needs. She is sensitive and that's part of who she is. The problem you describe is that sometimes her sensitivity is overly disruptive of your family's life. You could consult with an Occupational Therapist who is skilled at treating sensory issues 1-2 times to help your girl find a more appropriate way to deal with her sensitivity. Longer term therapy could possibly help desensitize her if you could afford it (it is expensive), but that is a decision you would make with a therapist. If you could find a parent group or website that focuses on sensory integration/processing, you might get some good ideas to try with your daughter. She can be helped to find a better way to react to what I am sure to her is a horrible situation. anonymous

I highly recommend the Phob-ease children's class with Dr. Fear (Dr. Howard Liebgold) at the Vallejo Kaiser . My children are taking his classes (11 year old in children's class, 14 year old in adult class). The current session started a few weeks ago and we are already seeing improvement in our children's ability to identify and cope with their anxieties. Each class member can take a support person, which I highly recommend. The support person (you) will learn ways to support the anxious person outside of class and techniques for dealing with any of your own anxieties.

Unfortunately, the next session does not start until Sept, but he also sells his class on book and DVD. From what I can see, several people in the adult class have taken the classes more than once, so I don't see any problem with using the DVD (or book alone) then taking the class later. You can find information about the class dates and times and the materials at: http://angelnet.com/fear.html anon

My daughter had many of the same behaviors that you describe here. After trying to alleviate her fears, calm her and rationalize with her, we moved on to medication. she took a small dose of zoloft daily for about 7 months. It helped immensely. She eventually decided that she did not need the medication anymore and we slowly took her off of it. She was fine after this. She will always be a worrier but the flip side is that my daughter is highly responsible and reliable. She thinks before she acts and now that she is age 15 I appreciate these traits. anon

It sounds like your daughter may have sensory integration issues. It is fairly common and treatable. You can have an assessment done by an occupational therapist or a physical therapist. You can also check out these websites: http://www.neurodiversity.com/books_sensory_integration.html and http://www.handle.org/ good luck! suz

7-year-old's fear of the police

Oct 2013

My seven year old is absolutely TERRIFIED of the police, including police cars and sirens. I believe that this is based on his fear of guns which arose when he started kindergaren and first heard other children talking about them. He's a very sensitive child, and has never been exposed to television, or other violent images, only watches PBS kids, etc. I'd like him to have a healthy respect for the police, combined with a little wariness (he is African American). I'd like to give him the opportunity to interact with a police officer in a non-threatening environment. Any suggestions? Thanks! Anon

The East Bay Regional Parks police department would be an excellent resource. Their officers patrol routinely in the local parks and would be very receptive to spending some quality time with your boy.

Try writing to Officer D. Irvin (dirvin [at] ebparks.org) who is one of the K-9 officers. He is a big, genial African American cop who keeps a police dog named Bear. They have photo cards that they hand out to kids. If your son likes dogs, this might be a nice ice-breaker. You can sometimes see mounted officers at Anthony Chabot Equestrian Center, but how much time they can spend with your son will depend on whatever else is going on at the time.

There are many other public events where you could arrange a special introduction, a ride in the police car, or even a peek into the EBRPD helicopter. Try calling the park district administrative headquarters (just south of the Oakland Zoo) and let them direct you to someone who could set it up. Park Trail Safety Volunteer

Here are a couple of events that you could put on your calendar in 2014. This may not be helpful in the moment, but since you didn't get many responses, I thought I'd share this. Google these 2 events:

1) Cal Day in April. It's the annual open house on the UC campus. There are LOTS of great activities for kids. One of them is a meet & greet with campus police and K9s. They often give the kids a little gift (they gave us a frisbee once). It's pretty friendly. And if your child starts to freak out, you just move on to a different activity such as bug science, archaeology or robots.

2) Tri-City Safety Day in September. It's held in the parking lot of El Cerrito Plaza. There are fire, ambulance and police teams from 3 cities. It is extremely kid friendly, and they might give you a little coloring book or something. The highlight for my child was an RV type trailer where the fire department taught the kids about not touching a hot stove and how to drop to the floor and crawl out a window, complete with fake smoke. So it's not all police, that might help.

You could see if your local PD or one of the cities above has an outreach person. Also, you could google police department coloring pages, to find and print a couple that might be useful.

Anxiety in 7year old at bedtime, separation

Nov 2011

I have 2 questions for folks out there. First, our 7-year old seems to be going through separation anxiety all over again -- works himself up into tears if mom want to go out to a swim class or dad wants to peel off early from a family outing to go do some work. Is this normal at this age? How do you alleviate it, and what are age-appropriate ways to self-soothe? Also, he keeps saying ''I don't know how'' when we ask him to stop fidgeting at night and go to sleep. We finally realized he has a point! Any advice out there about how to teach a child to fall asleep? We assume these strategies would be similar to dealing with anxieties during the day? These days, he is more responsive to advice from books and videos than from parents ... Thanks! Clueless parents

Got a boy prone to anxiety, too, so we've dealt with a lot of what you are going through. Anxiety is physiological as well as emotional and there are simple things your son can do to change both. In regards to sleep--smart guy you've got. He's right. We don't teach children how to fall asleep, we just assume they will.

Here are a few steps you can teach him to help relax him. Long deep breathing. Those long deep breaths will change the physiology of anxiety which tends to cause short, shallow breaths, getting ready for fight of flight. He can consciously slow his breathing down. For a 7-y-o have him try to imagine making a candle flame dance. Take a slow, deep breath, then breath out slowly enough that the flame does not go out, but strongly enough that it dances. Might be good to practice with a real candle during the daylight.

Deep breathing is calming any time. For sleep, teach him to get out of his head by taking a tour of his body. Start with his toes, and feel--don't imagine--each one. He might even blow some breath a kiss them with the long deep breathing. Then slowly work up his body, relaxing each part. When we do this with our son, he's usually asleep pretty quickly.

You might check into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which is great for kids and adults dealing with anxiety. There are lots of CBT therapists out here, many who specialize in working with kids. There's also a good book, What to do When You Worry Too Much. Remember the deep breathing for yourself, too . anonymous

We had similar issues with our daughter when she was 8. Never really went completely away but the best way we found to deal with it was to use cognitive behavior therapy. We used Michael Tompkins and more recently Daniela Owen, both of SF Center for Cognitive Behavior Therapy in Oakland (see http://www.sfbacct.com). They taught her how to use behavioral techniques to recognize anxiety and worries and how to put them aside so she could sleep -- and sleep in her own room instead of mine. Best of all, just a few weeks of sessions will make a huge difference. This isn't like conventional therapy that takes years. It's expensive, but worth it. Best of luck. trishd

Anxiety in younger children has become more and more of a problem due to increased academic pressures placed on them. If anxiety has not been a problem since recently it can reflect a ''regression'' due to trauma or a specific recent experience that has been unsettling. If there has always been anxiety but it has gotten worse it probably reflects developmental issues managing new emotional experiences. Many kids this age have nightmares and must learn to manage their fears in order to grow emotionally.

In any case the best approach is to develop a system of anxiety control with baby steps. Identify each fear and establish a small goal of proved coping. If trying to get the child to remain in bed alone try to have him Kirin bed for 5 minutes alone. Then with success increase it to 10. Each fear can be approached this way.

If this lasting longer than a month or two get a professional evaluation. Untreated anxiety only gets worse. It's also valuable in looking at sources of stress. Kids with subtle learning/ processing problems can experience stress. Robert

You've described the two most difficult times in a child's day - bedtime and transitions. Going to sleep requires letting go of all the fun, stressful, interesting things she's been doing and learning all day. It's a big help to have a bedtime routine. This might include a snack, toothbrushing, and stories or songs. You can even tie stories to cooperation: getting PJs on and teeth brushed by a certain time means more time for stories. What's important is a sense of calm, connection with you, and consistency.

Transitions are also hard for kids. We adults usually have the big picture in mind, so when it's time to say, go to work, we're expecting it. But from a kid's point of view, the world has shifted - she was happily drawing pictures, and now your suddenly leaving. Even though you leave for work every day, and kids ''know'' this (in the sense that they can repeat it back to you), they really don't have a sense of time that allows them to expect and predict changes. One thing you can do is to give warnings: ''In ten/five/one minutes we're leaving for school.''

Some transitions are harder than others. If there is a difficult one, talk with your daughter about what about it upsets her. See if you can understand and empathize with her point of view, even if you plan to keep doing what you are already doing. Kids, like the rest of us, want to feel understood.

There are a lot of great books on parenting that address practical issues such as these, as well as emotional development - you might just browse at your local bookstore and find one you like. Some possibilities are: Parenting from the Inside Out (Siegel); How to Talk So Kids Will Listen (Faber); Hold Onto Your Kids (Neufeld). Pat

7-year-old panicked about Burglars breaking in

Feb 2007

My 7 year old son has become quite obsessed and paniced about burglars breaking into our home. It only seems to be an issue at his bedtime, and every night he begs me to stay with him until he falls asleep. This is really hard for me, because sometimes it takes him 15-30 minutes to fall asleep, and given that I work 4 days a week, and never have time to do chores or relax until the kids go to bed, it means I can't even start with the night's work until later in the evening. I'm torn about what to do. I really do believe he's freaked out about burglars. But part of me feels like I'm being manipulated to stay with him--it's always been hard for him to go to bed. I'm assuming that the fear is really real, so I've been staying with him, but I find myself getting more and more resentful. I've told him recently that he has to go to bed earlier if he wants me to stay with him until he falls asleep, otherwise it gets too late. I stress that this is not a punishment, for I know he's scared, but that it's a practical matter for me. I'm not really sure this is the best approach and would be interested in hearing how other families have dealt with this issue. Thanks much. anon

This is a bizarre coincidence - our 7 yr. son is going through the exact same thing! (I wonder if they're friends and have been feeding each others fears?).

Our son was having such a hard time just getting through daytime activities (he had to be within touching distance of me) that I called the child psychology dept. at Kaiser and got advice. The dr. I spoke to said that this sudden anxiety was normal, but to be careful not to feed it.

Briefly, what he outlined what to do is not unlike any other sleep-training weaning program a parent might do with a toddler. Shorten the time you're with him in small amounts, use a chart with a simple reward (i.e. special activity) as incentive if needed, and above all, keep your voice and attitude calm and neutral - don't engage in his fears, don't debate his ''what-ifs'' - just answer with ''you are safe; I do everything in my power to mke sure you are safe. That's all there is to say''

Our son's burgular fears subsided pretty quickly, though I know he's sort of dwelling on other things. I've also been told by a teacher that this is the age that kids start ''figuring out'' the differences between reality and fantasy, and it can get a bit overwhelming at times. Another Mom

My seven year old goes through phases of being scared of robbers breaking in, which started when he was around five. In addition to the usual reassurances, I leave his bedroom door open and tell him I will be right outside his room, reading in my bed, until he falls asleep. He's usually content with that. I also leave a light on.

I was in the same situation as your son. I was totally convinced that somemone was going to break into my house and hurt me and my sister (and somehow leave my parents out of it??) My fear was caused by an overprotective mother who put the fear of everything in me! Anyway, what helped was to have a plan in case something should happen. I had a flashlight under my bed to either see what was going on or to bonk the intruder. I was also told that my parents would double check the locks and listen for any odd sounds. Finally, if I was super scared in the middle of the night I could bring my blanket to their room and sleep on the floor but I was NOT to wake them up unless it was a real emergency. I took advantage of this offer long enough to realize how uncomfortable the floor was. I would take the fear seriously but beware of him trying to take advantage of you. It seems like you really don't want to stay with him until he goes to sleep which I understand. Why don't you say, ''I'll come back in a few minutes to check up on you.'' Come back in a few minutes but keep the interaction minimal. Come back again if he isn't yet asleep but take more time to return. Perhaps after a few times/days he won't need you to come back at all or just once. good luck

8-year-old frequently thinks of bad things happening

Sept 2003

My 8 year old son has recently described to me how he thinks frequently about bad things happening--bombs, getting shot, burglar in the house--frightening things. He does not watch tv or videos or gameboys--maybe he's not desensitived! These thoughts do not seem to interfere with his life, he goes to school, and on playdates; however, he does not like to be alone at all. We live in a very small house, and he does not like to go down the hall to his room or to the bathroom on his own, recruiting me, his brother, the dog to accompany him. Both his father and I have worked on managing our anxiety over the years, so our son probably has quite a genetic tendency towards this. I wonder if we should just manage it at home, as long as it doesn't seem to interfere much with his life, or if we should seek some sort of professional help to prevent further problems. anon

My son was just like that - wouldn't even go down the hall to the bathroom alone. He had a very hard time falling asleep without company, even though his room is close to where we were. For this and other reasons, we did decide to take him to a therapist. He went weekly at first, then down to monthly, for over one year now. Don't know if that's what helped, or just maturing, but he is much better about all these things now. Less anxious, and better able to talk about his needs and feelings. Even falls asleep with just one ''good night''. anon.

Your message brought back painful memories of my own childhood. Like your son, I became afraid to be alone anywhere in our modest, three-bedroom home about the time I was seven or eight. My mom told us all (three girls) a ghost story that spooked the heck out of me, though not my sisters. Thereafter, I simply could not go anywhere, not even the bathroom, all by myself. It was very embarassing because no one seemed to understand, not even my mother(!). Luckily I had a dog who went wherever I did, and boy did I need her company. The whole phase must have lasted about a year. I used to think back on how cruel my mother was to tell us this ghost story, but then again, neither of my sisters even remember the story, much less my being afraid for the next twelve months or so. I guess it can be unpredictable, the kinds of experiences kids pick up and internalize... Perhaps talking to him about his fears would help him understand that they have no real basis, but having gone through something similar, I think it would be preferable if you humored him within reasonable limits (not much you can do if you're cooking dinner or changing the baby's diaper) and let the phase end on its own. anonymous, please

8-year-old's fears and anxieties

Jan 2006

My husband and I are struggling with our 8 year old. He seems to have fears or anxieties about certain things. He is opposed to a carpool in the mornings because he wants me (mom) to be there to kiss him and wave goodbye on the school yard everyday. I tell him I drive all the time and this will give me a break 2 days a week.

He cannot put himself to sleep without the touch or being next to one of us every night. He often sleeps in our bed. He is afraid of the dark, which I get because I was too. But my husband and I only have evenings together and this is affecting our relationship too. We have a 9 year old daughter that is the complete opposite of him and I think he feels pressure from that too. Some days we have the patience to discuss and come to mutual decisions and others there is no choice available. He prefers to stay home and play. He is very social when he wants to be and has friends, but there is this other very sensitive side to him.

I want us to feel we are doing the right thing by him, but I am doubting myself more and more. Should I get him in therapy? anon

Three years ago we signed our son up for an evening class at Kaiser/Vallejo. It was a 8 week class (one evening a week) given by Dr. Liebgold or as the kids call him, Dr. Fear. His classes really help kids identify and overcome their anxiety whether it's from separation, fear of dark, school,OCD symptoms, the list goes on and on. My son is very sensitive and had fears of us falling asleep before him and than something horrible happening to the family. An irrational fear to us yet very real to him. Dr. Fear's motto is, ''Face Your Fear and It Will Disppear''. My son's disappeared and he gained some really great life tools.

I think the beauty of this class is that the kids see and meet kids who have the same and different fears as them and makes it all very normal. The class was great for him and our whole family because once he knew that he could control the fear he got on with being a kid.

You don't have to be a Kaiser member to attend the class. If you call Kaiser/ Vallejo and ask for Dr. Liebgold's office they'll give you all of the info. anonymous

Try the phobia class at Kaiser Vallejo -- I don't think you have to be a member. At the very least you and your husband and your son will meet other kids with the same problems, and it might help. We took the class (my child had different phobias) and found it helpful -- there were lots of kids with separation anxiety there. It is a pain to drive there from Berkeley, but the class was worth it. One thing I liked was that the doctor who teaches the class emphasizes that people are wired differently, and often people with phobias are intelligent and sensitive. anon

8-year-old's illogical fears & anxiety

Feb 2004

My 8 year old son is having various illogical fears, particularly with trees falling down on him or on the house. There are certain streets he won't even walk on because he thinks the trees might break and fall on him. School has been stressful for him, thanks to the current horrible system in public schools (teachers rushing to set goals, kids being difficult, too much homework). Situation at home is fine, no fighting, tv, healthy lifestyle etc. He's very bright but his math (tables) is not great. In the long run, private schooling would be best but that's not an option at this point in time. Another sympton he has is being uncooperative and grouchy in the mornings. Any advice would be helpful. anon

Sounds like your son is developing some phobias (been there)! There is a FABULOUS class at Vallejo Kaiser (you don't have to be a Kaiser member) called PHOBE-EASE , taught by a wonderful man named Dr. Liebgold. He is a retired psychiatrist who was extremely phobic as a young adult and found the proper therapy. He makes the class lots of fun. Kids love him. (He does an adult class too).

It's a 6 week class (monday nights) and they help kids with all kinds of phobias, step by step. My younger son and I took the class in the fall. I highly recommend it.

Phobia fears are not usually logical (trees falling?) but never- the-less they are very realistic to the person experiencing the fear.

The current class started January 26th. They will likely invite you to attend the last class of this series to check it out. I think the next one starts in April or May. Call Vallejo Kaiser Health Ed Dept. and they will send you an application. good luck. June

I sympathize with you - I have an 8 year old son (along with an 11 and a 4 year old) and he exhibits some of the same symptoms you mention your son has. Throughout all my years of childrearing, every time I think my child is in serious need of some therapy, I turn to the series of books by Ames and/or Ilg. Together and sometimes with other co-authors they have written a series of books that covers ages 1 to 14, each called ''Your (fill in the blank) year old''. I cannot tell you how many times in reading these books I have started reading out loud to my husband the section of the book that perfectly describes the current weird - and apparently normal - behavior of the child in question.

Some of the books were written 20 - 30 years ago and the lanugage (particularly references to mothers as stay-at-home caregivers) are rather dated, but the discussions of the child behaviors are right on. To me it is very comforting to know that what seemed to me to be strange or worrisome or abnormal is completely normal.

Of course, your son may need something else - but check out ''Your 8 year old'' by Louise Ames and Carol Haber first! Good luck! Other mom of 8 yr old

Soo Hwa Yeo, a teacher of Bach Flowers and consultant, has done marvelous things for children who have such fears as your son. I and my son are both doing much better with our specialized mixes of flower essences. They work somehow on the emotional plane and help the body, much like homeopathy, come back into balance. She can be reached at: somesse [at] myexcel.com. My son is also in the public school system and was previously annoyed daily by the merciless teasing and name calling. Things have gotten hugely better this past month , I think, because he has been strengthened, not because the situation has changed. Another PS mom

Just a thought --do you think he may be grouchy and uncooperative in the mornings because he is having trouble sleeping due to his worries about ''the trees''? It sounds from what you say like you feel these worries are serious. Why not consult with a child psychologist who can help you sort out both what may be going on in school and in his internal world, and how to help him through it. Anonymous Child Psychologist in Berkeley

8-1/2 year old seems to be afraid of everything

Dec 2005

My 8-1/2 year old daughter seems to be afraid of everything. Lately she won't go to the bathroom by herself. She only will go if someone goes with her. She will not play in her room by herself. My husband and I suggested we go to DisneyWorld in December and she said ''No Disneyland is too scary''. She is afraid to fly also. She told me that at school around Halloween some of the kids were telling scary stories and this why she is so scared lately. But she seems to be afraid of so many things. Even before Halloween she was afraid of going down hills in the car in San Francisco, afraid of spiders, afraid of movies at the movie theater because they are too loud, afraid of the dark, etc. It frustrates me and I don't think I'm handling her very well. She obsesses about things that scare her. I remember as a child being scared of lots of things as well. I also suffered from anxiety in my 20's. She reminds me alot of myself as a child although are fears are of different things. What can I do to help her get over these fears and/or manage them better? Scaredy Cat's Mom

There is a way of helping children to find and use their own natural resources to deal with scary situations. A trained guide can help your daughter develop the power of her mind and imagination to find her own best solutions. It's a confidence-boosting skill that kids take to naturally; they learn to shape it to their own personality, and to apply it to all sorts of challenges. For example, a young girl who was disturbing her whole family at ever increasing levels with fears surrounding sleep, discovered during a guided inner journey that she had special animal friends that would help her with some advice. She worked with them to devise a special plan of putting tiny toy animals, and her own drawings, as guards in all the places that seemed scary. In this case it took only one visit to make a startling improvement in her ability to get to sleep and stay asleep, and a couple of follow up visits for fine- tuning. Another child decided to keep his power partner with him in his pocket wherever he went. Kids who learn this safe, powerful process find that they can trust their own wisdom and strength to deal with fears, troubling relationships, test or performance anxiety, or physical complaints. Lee

9-year-old is dreading turning 10

Jan 2010

My soon-to-be 10-year-old son does not want to be reminded of his birthday later this week. He is a precocious only child. He does not tolerate change well. Of course we understand the fear behind anything unknown - taking a trip to a new place, flying for the first time, entering a new classroom, etc. And we all have doubts and worries about the future, maybe even fear The Great Unknown, as it were. But we are flabbergasted that a young boy is not looking forward to his birthday. As children, my husband and I looked forward to these days as the days when all the attention was focused on us - to a degree anyway - but we had siblings. Perhaps our son is used to all of the attention we give him and doesn't feel the need we had as young children to have a special day all to ourselves. It's odd to me though that he is already concerned about getting older. I remember having existential moments even as a young girl, but I looked forward to my future. Our son, though, hates to be reminded of his birthday and the thought that he is ''one year closer to dying.'' Yes. He has said that. No present - or even giving in and not acknowledging the day of his birth - will shave off any of his pessimistic, gloomy core. We have reminded him that this is a day we are celebrating as a family. But do we honor his wishes and not even vocalize our wish for his ''Happy Birthday'' when he awakens on Friday morning? Is this unique to children his age? Worried mama

I can totally relate. My son is/was exactly the same way, right down to the ''closer to dying'' comments. It started around age 6 or 7, and is only slightly less strong now, at 16. He is not a generally depressed kid, but he's long thought about things ''beyond his years.'' Unlike most kids, he really doesn't look forward to more privileges, opportunities, etc. that go along with getting older - He focuses on and worries about being older meaning more responsibilities, higher expectations from others, less ''child'' fun, and less time until his ultimate death (and ours). We do our best to assure him that people can have fun at all ages (though we are admittedly bad role models for this), and that he can expect to live a very long time. We try to focus on celebrating that he was BORN, and how much joy he brings to our lives, and not on the fact that he's now ''older'' (and really, we're no more ''older-than-yesterday on our birthdays than on any other day). Try reading ''The Day You Were Born,'' and avoid mentioning his new age. My son also sees a therapist regularly, which is very helpful. mom of boy who doesn't want to grow up

i distinctly remember experiencing a heavy dread before my 10th birthday. it symbolized the end of childhood for me- entering double digits for (ostensibly) the rest of my life. even as an almost-ten year old i had a sense of the loss of childhood, lack on concrete responsibility, being YOUNG. so your son is not alone in his fear, although his colleagues are most likely as precocious as he is (and as i was). maybe it would be sweet to do something really ''grown up'' for his birthday. something subtle and still fun. in this way you might avoid discrediting his fear (of loss of childhood, one year closer to death) by showing him that yes, things DO change for most people as they grow older, but these changes do not present in a negative slope. although adult birthday parties could rarely pass for a child's, there doesn't have to be a lack of fun and love. i remember wondering if life just got worse and worse when i was young. reinforcement of the positive in the course of change could be really beneficial. i don't mean in a simple way (it seems your son is mature for his age), like ''well look at all the good stuff that happens when you're 10! you get to start 5th grade, you get to go to a movie alone'' or what-have-you, but rather in a deeper sense: change is inevitable and constant, aging is inevitable as well, we hope that we can be present with our age instead of bemoaning it, we try to find the good in whatever age we find ourselves, we try to love and hold our memories of the past without wishing we were still there, we try to be committed to the present so we don't wish to relive the past. etc. have a real talk with him about all this! it sounds like an opportunity to have a good and deep talk as a family about all these thoughts (cause it's not just kids who are scared of aging). enjoy -a former precocious child A

I'm sorry, this sounds very hard for you. But maybe the silver lining is that he just really enjoys being a kid, which seems like all too rare a thing these days. When I was 11, a friend and I got very interested in the occult and we spent a lot of our time trying to figure out a spell to keep us from growing up. On some level we recognized how special that time was and we appreciated it. Maybe that's the case for your son, and maybe it's possible to relate to him on that level. another peter pan

Ah, I remember my 10th birthday well. I was sad about it because I liked being a ''single digit'' kid-- turning into a double digit number scared me and made me feel like I wasn't a kid anymore. In the end, I had my party and got over it. But I remember struggling with changes like that throughout my childhood. In my opinion, you shouldn't push it-- maybe just skip the party this year. My father-in-law likes to celebrate on a non-birthday day and say ''Happy Un-Birthday''. Maybe if you do something goofy like that and let your son pick a day to have a small celebration for his ''un-birthday'' he'll feel like he's more in control. Good luck! Hoping to be a triple digit someday

Hi, I too, am an only child, and when I was young, did dread my birthday because I disliked (and continue to) all the attention focused on me. I was particularly nervous about my birthday parties (although now they are great memories) again because of the attention focused on me. Having to endure Happy Birthday is horrible if you don't like being the center of attention. I would suggest doing something fun together as a family maybe including a few of his close friends, but laying off the typical birthday rituals (singing, cake, gifts) that set him apart as other. Another alternative (coming from someone who just had a baby) is to make his birthday a day for him to thank and celebrate mom and dad for raising him, making him, and squeezing him out a small orifice. He really ought to make a cake for you two. As for his apprehension about growing older, maybe he is a particularly sensitive soul or has suffered a death in his circle? Anon

10 Year Old's Anxiety

March 2012

My ten year old daughter has been having a lot of anxiety lately. This is pretty new for her, but her worries have become pretty prevalent. She has night worries about all sorts of things: something happening to her parents, throwing up, getting sick, etc. I'd like to help her of course - What have other parents of anxious kids done to help break the spinning of these anxieties? And, does anyone have a good recommendation for a therapist who specializes in this? I'm thinking that what she probably needs is some good cognitive therapy skills to break herself out of these patterns, but I'm open to other types of therapeutic options. Thanks in advance, Appreciative Mama

It sounds like your daughter could benefit from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. You may want to talk to San Francisco Bay Area Center for Cognitive Therapy (www.sfbacct.com. Also check out the International Obsessive Compulsive Foundation website (http://www.ocfoundation.org/), as this organization provides a lot of good information on anxiety and the questions you should ask in finding a good CBT therapist. Hope this helps!

I've been there. My now 11 years old son had bad anxiety when he was 7. We seen Dr. Martinez, Katherine at the Center for Cognitive Therapy, she is great! My son uses the skills he learned with her till today and is thriving you can't even tell he had so much trouble before. I highly recommend her. Her number is (510)652-4455 ex.14. Felling your pain

Therapy is a good idea, I'm just going to share some things that I have done when my children went thru anxious stages. 1. accupressure. My accupuncturist gave me a hand massage to do on my child at bedtime. Bedtime ssemed to be when all the worries of tomorrow cropped up. So I did the massage and sometimes was silent, sometimes talking softly about whatever the worry was, sometimes singing a lullaby. 2. When a worry was expressed I didn't try to take it away, instead I took it seriously - say she was worried about feeling sick at school - I would talk about the fact that there would be warning signs, she would feel tired or hot or sick to her stomach. What should she do then? Tell the teacher, ask to go lie down in the office, call me. 3. Talk about whether we could make it though one day. Just for tomorrow, see if it will be ok. If it isn't then we'll come up with a new plan. 4. Since nighttime/bedtime seemed to be the hardest, we bought a futon and put it on our bedroom floor. I just put the child to bed in our room -- which seemed to have magical protective qualities. Hope this helps. been there