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My 5 year old daughter has complained a few times that she just can't get things out of her mind ("I can't get it out of my mind daddy" and she is visibly quite distressed). I'd like to share two separate incidents (6 months apart) where she said this and was distressed and crying inconsolably.

  1. We visited a lake for a picnic and there was a plaque dedicated to the memory of someone. My 7 year old had to read out loud what was written on the plaque to show how his reading skills were top notch. Sadly enough, the plaque was dedicated to the memory of a family whose boat drowned in the lake and read something along the lines of "dedicated to the memory of A,B,C and D who went out on their boats and never returned".

    -On the way back "I can't get it out of my mind daddy. Their boat just sank"

  2. She happened to see few seconds of a movie where in there was a (chase) scene where an ambulance was rushing to a hospital and bumps into other cars on the way. No blood or any other violence as such.

    -"I can't get it out of my mind, why did the ambulance have to rush and hit other cars on the way"

Things I have tried so far :

  1. Matter of fact: Asked her if this "not letting go off from your mind" is a result of she learning this from her friends, cartoons or other videos she has watched. She says no. About the movie, I remind her that telly is for entertainment and what we watch mostly, is entertainment and wasn't necessarily real. Draw parallels with other cartoon shows where silly things are done just to make viewers laugh. Explained ambulances are supposed to rush to the hospital to be able to help people in need.

    About the plaque, explained to her that long time ago boats weren't as stable as they are now. Draw parallels to mud houses vs concrete houses. Also explained about life jackets and lifebuoys and how important safety is. Explained technological advancement and how they could have taken a walkie talkie and called for help. There were no mobile phones and they couldn't call for help.

  1. Compartmentalise: During a chat while discussing the "not able to let go of things" I ask her to recall the colour of the wall in her bedroom. When she does, I remind her that somethings are just information in the brain. You can recall it when you want and while it is in your brain it doesn't really have to bother you. Just like she doesn't always just keep thinking about the colour of her bedrooms wall, she can train her brain to put this stuff that bothers her at the back of the brain.

  2. Breathe: Ask her to take 5 deep breaths when she feels distressed.

  3. Divert attention: Ask her to think about her best friend or favourite teacher or how the neighbours dog loves her when she takes it for a walk. And ask her to talk about that for a minute.

All of the above have failed as she keeps saying "I don't know what to do, I just can't get it out of my head". I am of course very concerned that this currently bothers her so much and am scared will become a personality trait and how it could affect her whole life. At 5 years of age this seems a bit too much for her. I think she's also just a tad too young for a psychologist. As a parent what can I do to facilitate her letting go of things? Would also appreciate any other words of advice.

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  • How long after an incident does she say she's still thinking about it? Is her life disrupted by this problem (which has been described but not in scope.) Have you spoken to her doctor about it?
    – anongoodnurse
    Sep 24 at 16:07
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    It doesn't sound overly worrisome. Her reactions are age appropriate, actually. She may be a bit ahead in starting to grasp the finality of death, which some meet with equanimity, but that's kind of the exception. Also, random things out of our control can upset us. If it was interfering with her sleep or day to day activities, I'd worry, but it doesn't seem to be. If it is a personality trait, it will declare itself.
    – anongoodnurse
    Sep 27 at 1:59
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    @anongoodnurse Very reassuring. Thank you. Sadly, I am also responsible to hasten the introduction of the concept of dying to my kids. And have often wondered if that's what is causing this behaviour, only in my daughter though. It started with Simba and his dad and the circle of life. Also have occasionally pointed out how leaves fall off in Autumn and grow back in Spring thus showing the circle of life. While there have very occasionally been questions of "daddy will you die too", they haven't come from a space of worry. Or at least that's what I feel. Sep 28 at 9:03
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    The introduction has to start somewhere. When my granddaughter was 3, my dog died. She was too young to understand the finality, but we also started to point out fallen leaves, dead insects, etc. You did your best, as did we. The answer below is very good!
    – anongoodnurse
    Sep 28 at 15:17
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    My son got very upset with Shere Khan's death in the Jungle Book film the first time he saw it - it caused some problems until we realised we could rewind the film and show Shere Khan alive (and then fast forward past the offending part) - distraction and redirection are useful tools
    – Rory Alsop
    Sep 28 at 15:55

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My daughter (10) is similar. There is a certain song that (for unknown reasons) brings up feelings of panic and anxiety for her any time she hears it.

Once she's heard it, she fixates on it for sometimes days at a time until it eventually fades from her mind.

My son (8) recently discovered the fear of death, and will sometimes be literally shaking at bedtime because he's afraid of dying, or that he might not wake up if he falls asleep.

All I can do for both of them (as you have been doing for your daughter) is to be there for them, comfort them, and reassure them the best that I can. I don't think there's any way to "fix" this; it just takes time. As time goes by those incidents will fade in her mind.

I remember a specific incident when I was about 12 where I watched a movie with a gunfight and a very gruesome death. It affected me deeply, and I thought about that scene a lot in the months following. But eventually the memory faded somewhat and it didn't have the same emotional charge that it had when I initially saw it.

We are all exposed to things in our lives that are somewhat traumatizing or beyond our ability to cope, but we do eventually learn to manage in spite of them.

I don't think that 5 years old is too young for a psychologist or therapist. My children have been seeing a play therapist since they were pre-verbal (they had some significant early childhood trauma). Therapy can be very beneficial, and a therapist might have suggestions both for you and for the child on ways that you can make this easier for her.

Good luck!

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