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9-year old's fear of death
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9-year old's fear of death

My son is very fearful of being alone (classic separation anxiety).  He is afraid to go upstairs if no one is up there with him, and is afraid to come downstairs if no one is there.  He has taken to sleeping in the lower bunk in his 7 yr. old sister's room, but won't lay down to go to bed if she isn't there.  Lately (last month or so) has been waking up at night crying out from fear after a nightmare.  When I ask him what he is afraid of, he replies he is afraid of dying.  If he goes upstairs alone he is afraid of the monsters "getting" him (though he acknowledges that in his head he knows there are no such thing as monsters).  He wakes every night (for just over a year now), around 1:00 am and comes running into our room.  We have taught him now to bring in his sleeping bag because we didn't want him in our bed and also because we were exhausted from walking him back to his own room (or his sister's) several times a night.  He goes back to sleep once in our room easily.  He is also afraid that we (his parents)might die, but this is a lesser fear than his own fear of death.  And twice in the last month he has appeared to be sleep walking.  We have been taking him to a psychologist for the past year, and it doesn't seem to be helping at all.  He used to have tics that he would cycle through, but ever since he starting seeing this doctor, he has starting curling his hair with his finger (most of the other tics have stopped, but he does demonstrate some mild compulsive behavior (ie sometimes tapping the milk jug twice before setting it down).  We are trying to help him deal with this problem but it is very difficult.  We play a relaxation tape as the kids are falling asleep most nights (and play classical music on the other nights).  We are looking for suggestions to help us help him get over his fear of death. I feel if we conquer that we are well on the way to recovery.  Oh, and one more thing.  Clinical Depression runs in my family, though I do not suffer from it.  I can't help wondering if this might be somehow genetically related. Any advice is appreciated.
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Dear Sue,

Your son is clearly displaying symptoms of a biochemically-based emotional disorder and there's every indication that medication will need to be part of the treatment plan. You are doing some very sensible things (therapy, behavior management), but sometimes they need to be augmented by medication when it's likely that the condition has a physical (i.e., biochemical) component.

The positive family history for mood disorder is important to know, as it increases the likelihood of related disorders in your son.

Often serotonin-targeted medications, like Paxil, will be of great benefit in addressing symptoms like those your son displays. The differential diagnosis will likely be Anxiety Disorder (e.g., Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Separatiion Anxiety Disorder) vs. Mood Disorder (e.g., Depressive Disorder).
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My child who is the hopper and flapper of arms, also did this terribly.  At Christmas we told her if she could sleep in her bed for 2 weeks without coming into our room, we would give her 1 dollar a day.  At the end of 2 weeks she could by a present for a poor child who couldn't afford it.  Amazingly it worked beautifully and she was so proud of herself to do something good for someone else.  She is sleeping through the night now, but we still need to be with her till she dozes off.
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