My Kids Are Hypochondriacs — Is This Normal?

By Dr. Michael Oberschneider, Ashburn Psychological & Psychiatric Services

Dear Dr. Mike,

I have three kids, and all of them are the biggest hypochondriacs! They are so over-concerned with the most minor of scrapes and bruises.

We go through an excessive amount of band-aids because any scrape, cut, or even blemish requires one (or three) tears, and crying will ensue. I remember being covered in bruises and scabs as a kid — it was just a normal thing to have. Any advice on how I can get them to cut the dramatics?

Dear Concerned Parent,

While you may have three children who all meet the criteria for Hypochondriasis, I would doubt that to be the case, since their symptoms would be negatively impacting their lives more profoundly.

Children with Hypochondriasis aren’t only overly sensitive or overdramatic, rather their anxiety can be debilitating. In reading your letter, it seems that your three children may have varying degrees of anxiety and/or may have highly sensitive personality styles. It is also apparent that they are wearing you down with their overreactions to their scrapes and nicks.

Keep in mind that your children’s responses, while strong, do not seem unusual. Children typically cry in response to scrapes and bruises. The tears, Band-Aids, and attention they are turning to you for, all serve to heal the moment — both emotionally and physically. As your children grow older, they will learn to self-regulate their strong, negative feelings without needing you as much or without the need for “dramatics.”

I recommend being there for them when they need you with tender care and emotional warmth, and as many Band-Aids, as they seem to need. Over time they will internalize your presence as being a healing one, with the message always being that they are OK when confronted by minor scrapes and bruises. “Gee, every time I go to mommy with a boo-boo, I’m okay” should eventually turn into “Gee, maybe I don’t need to go to mommy” or “Gee, maybe I can shake it off, and I don’t need a Band-Aid.”

One thing you can do to help your children manage their emotions better in these moments as a parent is to stepwise things towards greater independence and self-reliance. I’ll use my three-year-old son as an example here. Whenever my boy used to bang himself on something, he would cry and immediately demand an ice cube for me to place on his “boo-boo,” and I would hold him until the tears passed and the ice cube melted. After going through this routine many times, I then just had him rubbed and/or blow on the boo-boo (but without ice). Later I would just hold him, and my presence alone was enough to comfort him through the upsetting moment. I never needed to say no to the ice cubes because he eventually felt secure and safe enough to not ask for them himself.

If, however, your children remain overly sensitive and overly reactive to minor scrapes and bruises, you may want to consider meeting with a child psychologist to determine if any sort of treatment is warranted. Cognitive behavior therapy (and other methods) is very effective in the treatment of children with anxiety.