Scary Thoughts

Our 6-year-old boy is sweet, talkative, joyful, articulate, generous, neat, and obedient. However, lately he has been having scary thoughts that he tells us about. Killing the family. Killing his friend’s family. He doesn’t really even understand why or how, but his conscience is really causing him pain. He sees these thoughts as wrong and bad, and although he loves us very much he is scared he is becoming a bad kid. We have told him that he is a good boy, scary thoughts happen, and what matters is what we do, and how we act towards others- which for him is nice, courteous and thoughtful, well beyond his years. We are scared. Any advice?

Frightening thoughts are fairly normal between the ages 6 and 9. Kids hear things on the news; they see movies and TV shows – and all they hear and see is violence and killing. Even if we try to protect them by limiting their television access, all it takes is overhearing the news (e.g. of a high school kid killing people with a gun) and kids get scared. They don’t know how to interpret all this. When the media are full of violence, kids think that’s all that exists outside the protective environment of their home. Add in school, where kids talk to other kids and teachers may even talk about keeping yourself safe, and kids think this is a dangerous and scary world. They don’t know that the media blow it all out of proportion, that these events are rare and that’s why they’re news. They don’t know that what happens in the movies and on TV shows does not represent real
You need to teach your son that TV and movies and even the news don’t depict life as it really is, that these frightening events hardly ever happen, and that kids or teenagers from loving families aren’t the ones who do this kind of thing.

Most kids, however, have fantasies and fears about being killed rather than about being the killer. There must be a reason why your son is different. He sounds as if he is really concerned about whether he is “good” or “bad,” and is trying very hard to be a “good boy.” In fact, he sounds so well-behaved that it must be a tremendous effort for him. Your response to his concerns also suggests that you are emphasizing “being good” a little too much. He needs to know that everyone makes mistakes, and that our mistakes don’t mean we are “bad people.” He needs to learn to laugh at his mistakes rather than take them too seriously. He needs to be able to goof off and not always be neat or obedient. He needs to be able to be in a “bad mood” sometimes and have it accepted, not to always have to be joyful.

Another issue is how you handle his anger and his other negative emotions. All children get angry sometimes, and they need to know that their anger is acceptable and that they will be listened to rather than rejected when they feel angry. Parents make mistakes, too, and kids can get angry at these mistakes. It’s possible that your son is angry at you but feels unable to express it because he may not feel loved when he is angry. So he comes up with these fantasies instead. Encourage him to tell you in words when he feels angry, and pay some attention to his concerns. If he can learn to express his anger directly, it will not come out indirectly in these frightening thoughts.

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