Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

My son is terrified that end of the world is coming

Dear Virginia, How can I reassure my son, 11, that the end of the world isn’t coming?

I thought he’d calm down after the Large Hadron Collider started, but someone told him there’s still a chance of the world |ending in two months’ time. He gets tearful, rings me from school, and is losing weight with worry. Should I take him to see a psychiatrist?

Yours sincerely, Barbie



Virginia Says

This is such a common problem that I really don’t think there’s any need to take your son to a psychiatrist at the moment. To take it quite so seriously would make him feel stigmatised and unusual, when he’s not.

When I was young, I was distraught at the time of the Bay of Pigs crisis, convinced we were all going to die in a nuclear war. When my son was around your son’s age, he suffered similar traumas over the nuclear threat.

What your son needs most is for the people around him to keep calm, not to start looking for psychiatrists in the phone book and labelling him bonkers.

I do feel for this boy because I know, simply from asking around, that there are dozens of children of the same age as him who are having sleepless nights worrying about the Collider — and now that there’s a fault in it, matters are made worse. My feeling is that it would be best to repeat the truth to your son.

Then, tell him that people have been worrying about the end of the world since time

began. Worrying, you must tell him, is part of the human condition and if we don’t have something to worry about, we invent it. Nothing disastrous has happened so far during the world’s lengthy existence and we’re still here. You could add that neither you nor his dad are worried one jot, and surely he doesn’t think that both of you are complete idiots.

Now, there’s no way that reason is going to reassure him completely when his anxiety is far deeper, but it might help if you got him to write all these points down, and keep them in his pocket to read when he feels really panicky. Tell his teachers at school about his fears and ask if they might keep a bit quiet about the |

Collider for the moment, or present it in a reassuring way.

But best would be if you were to be around as much as possible for the next few months, to pick him up and take him to school and always be at the end of a phone if he rings.

Because these troubles probably have nothing to do with the Collider, but stem from a very common separation anxiety that can hit children at this age.

The way to help them through is to be constantly loving, calm, reassuring, and present.

He will, I’m sure, come through a time that must not only be agonising for him but also for you.

Our Readers say

This is a school worry

Given your son’s age, I would hazard a guess that his fears of Armageddon are a transference of some problem(s) connected with recently changing schools. After all, his familiar world of primary school has vanished. I’d talk to him about the number of times the end of the world has been predicted, and reassure him that it will not happen.Gently lead the conversation to any worries he may have about school – the way forward will depend on what is bothering him. As an ex-teacher, mother and grandmother, I have seen my share of school-based worries and know how alone and frightened the victims can feel.

Name and address supplied

He must work it out

Your son needs help to break the cycle of anxiety. There will be other events in his life, such as the threats of global warming, nuclear conflict, financial meltdown, etc. I hear that therapy can be quite sensible and helpful. Anxiety is sometimes genetic; perhaps Barbie has some experience of these feelings too? Her son may suffer from anxiety in future about other events, even after we’ve survived the Collider experiment, unless he’s shown how to deal with it.

Name and address supplied

He needs an outlet

At 11, I too was overly sensitive to current issues; the nightmares are still vivid. The issues that concerned me were deforestation, pollution, climate change and child mortality in Africa. I turned to controlling everything I could as a way of escape, focusing on health and diet. Five years on, I’m still in therapy for anorexia nervosa. I’m not saying your son is in danger of a serious mental disorder. What I am suggesting is the need for an outlet, an escape route for his anxieties. To join a conservation group or charity, to feel like he has a plan for the future, might help.

Stephanie Williams, by email

THERAPY IS NOT REQUIRED

My heart goes out to your son. As a child of the 1950s who was at primary school during the Cuban missile crisis, I remember the adults telling us that this could be the end of the world. I had a real terror of nuclear war destroying the planet. None of this means I needed to see a psychiatrist. It just means that things matter to me – as they do to your son. Your son is at the age when he will be confronting the realisation that nothing is forever, or so it seems. People die, things change and this realisation will add to his fears. If you can provide him with stability at home and tell him that some things are forever – such as your love – that will make a difference.

Name and address supplied

IT’s about change

Your son sounds like an intelligent, sensitive person who, at 11, will have just started secondary school. It could be that anxieties relating to the changes marking the start of his teens have expressed themselves in this fear. Is he settling in at school? Is he being bullied? Check with his teachers how things are. Could his science teacher have a word on the subject to the class? The world, and our vulnerability in it, is an interesting subject for inquisitive, active minds.

Name and address supplied

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