Hypochondria is a health anxiety disorder that describes a person who fears becoming ill or believes they’re suffering from a serious medical condition. This condition is rare and affects’ only 0.1% of the world population. But it can be debilitating and makes maintaining an everyday routine challenging.
Most people are aware of hypochondria in adults, but this condition can also affect children, including toddlers. But it can be harder to recognize and diagnose in younger children, especially those who are just developing their communication skills.
Below, we explore the signs of hypochondria in toddlers and how you can help your child manage their health-based anxiety.
Can Kids Develop Hypochondria?
It doesn’t matter what age you are – it’s always possible to experience anxiety. This is true of all forms of anxiety, including those that are health-based. Psych Central explains children of all ages can be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, like hypochondria.
But it’s often more challenging to diagnose kids than adults. This is because symptoms of anxiety can manifest differently in kids, especially the younger they are. For example, a 2020 study concluded that many children with anxiety go undiagnosed because there’s a lack of understanding of their symptoms. For this reason, it’s rarer to diagnose a toddler with hypochondria than older children. Some healthcare practitioners are wary of giving younger children diagnoses since symptoms can present differently with age, and with time, the diagnosis may no longer be accurate or relevant.
Additionally, toddlers are just developing their communication skills and learning to express their feelings, both of which make it harder to give them a proper diagnosis of anxiety.
Risk Factors For Childhood Anxiety
Some children are more prone to developing health-based anxiety disorders. Some risk factors in kids for hypochondria include:
- Has experienced health trauma
- Over-exposure to health-related materials
- Had a sibling or other close family member with health problems
- Having a caregiver who discusses health anxieties
- Expresses discomfort or unfamiliarity with natural body functions
Signs Of Hypochondria In Toddlers
Some signs of hypochondria in adults are the same in children, whereas others differ. Likewise, the signs of health-based anxiety vary in children depending on a number of factors, like age.
According to Children’s Treatment Center, some of the most common signs of hypochondria in children include the following:
- Taking excessively about their health
- Wanting to wear band-aids all the time
- Complaining about a physical ailment daily
- Expressing fear if someone they know is sick
- May obsess over a certain disease or body part
- Asking to have their temperature taken frequently
Your child may also exhibit signs of anxiety that don’t necessarily appear motivated by a fear of sickness but can still be a sign of hypochondria, like:
- Extreme clinginess
- Shaky in new situations
- Anxious body movements
- Developing repetitive behaviors
- Trouble staying or falling asleep
Helping A Toddler With Hypochondria
There are a variety of treatment options for hypochondria, but not all of these are appropriate for young children (such as medication). Below are some ways hypochondria is managed in kids.
Education Is Key
For some people, anxiety is rooted in a lack of understanding and knowledge. Your toddler may be fearful of getting sick because they don’t understand it. They may not be aware of prevent measures and treatment options. All they know is being sick feels bad and prevents them from having fun.
The more control a person has over their situation, the less anxious they tend to feel. Arm your toddler with the knowledge to help manage anxiety. Read a book about germs or watch an educational program on TV or YouTube that’s geared towards children.
However, if you educate your toddler, be sure to do so in an age-appropriate manner. You can’t expect them to understand the science of being sick. But they can grasp that handwashing is an easy way to keep from feeling unwell. Don’t give them too much information to the point where it’s overwhelming. Speak to your doctor for age-appropriate tips.
One of the main ways anxiety disorders like hypochondria are treated is through therapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This is a type of talk that helps people recognize unhealthy therapy beliefs and behaviors and change them.
As per healthline, CBT can help kids control:
- Self-defeating thoughts
It can also help them work on positive skills, such as confidence, problem-solving, and self-control.
CBT is a long-term form of therapy; The longer a person is engaged in it, the more likely they are to see positive results. For it to work in kids, it often requires parental engagement and support. You’ll need to listen closely to the advice of your child’s therapist to help them practice CBT skills at home.
If you’re looking for a therapist to help your toddler’s anxiety, be sure to choose someone who specializes in children. It’s preferable if the professional has experience working with people who have the same type of anxiety disorder your child does.
Read our in-depth guide for more information on what to expect from therapy for toddlers.
Evaluate Your Behavior
If your child is struggling with health-based anxiety, it’s important to reflect on your own behavior. There may be ways in which you’re exacerbating their anxiety without even realizing it. For example, avoid talking about health-related topics in front of your child, especially if it’s about someone your child knows who is sick. You may think these conversations are fine since younger kids can’t follow along fully. But not being able to understand the subject can make your child more fearful.
Additionally, the more you discuss health topics, the more likely your child will draw their own conclusions without fully understanding the situation. If they hear mom say she’s sick, they may believe that it’s a life-threatening sickness when it’s only a cold.
If your child is talking about something health-related, don’t brush them off. Listen to their thoughts to understand what they’re thinking. Correct any misconceptions with age-appropriate information. Emphasize to your child that sometimes thinking about something too much can make you feel worse.
Stress Management Techniques
Finally, whether your toddler has been diagnosed with hypochondria, it’s important to find ways to manage their stress if they’re expressing signs of anxiety. The younger the child, the more unaware they’ll be of their feelings and how to manage them. But this is an opportunity for you to teach them healthy coping skills that’ll benefit them into the future.
As per the American Psychological Association, some ways to help young kids manage their stress include:
- practice meditation
- Take them outdoors
- Do a creative activity
- Have designated quiet time
- Activities that distract but bring joy
For more information on hypochondria and other anxiety disorders in toddlers, please speak to your healthcare provider.
Sources: Psych Central, NCBI, Healthline, Children’s Treatment Center, APA,