Son traumatised by incident
ASK THE EXPERT: A few months ago my 10-year-son and his friends were playing in a park near our home when they were threatened by a group of teenagers, who pushed and shoved them and tried to rob them. My son ran to our house to get help and the police were called, and later apprehended the teenagers.
My son and the boys were very upset by the incident. The guards were really good at handling the situation. They chatted to my son and tried to allay his worries. They told him that the teenagers were not from the area and unlikely to visit again. They advised him to put the incident behind him. The trouble is that my son is unable to do that.
My son talks about the incident a lot and I always stop what I am doing and sit and listen to him. I purposely don’t bring it up anymore as I don’t want my son dwelling on it, but I am really careful to try to be supportive and so, if he wants to talk about it, I listen to him.
Recently he had stopped talking about it and I thought he had put it behind him. But he came home very subdued the other day and he eventually told me he had seen a group of boys near the top of our road with cans of beer and he got a fright.
We had a long chat about it and I found out that he is now afraid of any boy within the age range of the boys who attacked them.
I did my best to show him that I understood his fears and I told him I was really glad that he had told me. I then tried to point out that it was very unlikely that he would be threatened again and discussed what he could do if he sees someone who he does not like the look of (eg cross the road, go into a shop).
However, any reassurance I give him does not seem to work. He is now frightened of walking home from school alone. Since last September, at his request, he began walking home from school with friends, making the last part of the journey himself as his friend lives in another estate.
Now because he is afraid of making the last part of the journey himself, he wants me to meet him half way. I started doing this, but I worry it is a step backwards. My husband thinks I should insist my son face his fears and walk home (as there is no real danger) but I worry about putting him under pressure. However I try to reason or reassure my son, he remains fearful. What approach would you recommend?
A: Many specific fears or phobias have their roots in a traumatic incident like the one your son experienced. It is great that your son can talk to you about his fears and that you are there to support and listen to him. This is the first step in overcoming a fear.