Is your child:
A delusion is a belief that is not consistent with reality. This belief could be evidence of a very serious problem and may need immediate attention. It is one thing for your child to have an active imagination and to believe that dragons are real or that Harry Potter really lives at Hogwarts. Children believe in the tooth fairy, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Magical thinking is okay to a point.
If your child begins to become too wrapped up in fantasy or believes in delusions of persecution (someone is out to get me) or grandeur (I am very important and needed to protect our country), this could signal a serious problem.
If your child is anxious, sad, or exiled from peer relationships because of an obsession or belief, it may be time to seek help. Children do see shadows at night. They believe that monsters are under the bed or outside the shower. If the monsters move, talk and tell your child to act a certain way, this delusion could be a problem.
Consider religious and cultural beliefs. It may be that the family has unique beliefs that are not shared by the greater society. However, pervasive delusions that ‘haunt’ children and tell them what to do can be very serious and require immediate attention and intervention.
Children with loose associations, meaning wandering dialogue that does not follow any logical pattern and ascribing to irrational beliefs, could be experiencing early onset symptoms of schizophrenia.
Severe depression can also be accompanied by what we can psychosis. Psychosis is a detachment from reality that is directly related to a severely depressed emotional state.
Children with autism can be very wrapped up in fantasy. They may believe more than other children that Hogwarts is real. They may take on characters from Star Wars and want to be them or to live in that fantasy world. Sometimes children with Autism use their interests or obsessions to frame their feelings about the world.
It can be helpful to translate or reframe. If a child says “I am Darth Mal inflicting my power over all!” you may say “Sounds like you’re pretty upset right now. It was a tough day.” It will be important to try to connect the metaphor back to reality.
For those with ASD, the fantasy may be more concrete, and it may make more sense.
It may be that talking to Jon Bon Jovi provides a sense of comfort to a kid who likes his music, and it may emerge through further casual conversation that this behavior is not a delusion at all, merely a coping strategy.
First, take the time to listen and learn. As a parent, it will be important to gather information in a neutral manner. Do not freak out or run around to every specialist in town. Don’t ask “are you crazy?” Instead, calmly ask, “Did this happen in real life or in your mind?” Sometimes a simple probe like this will indicate that your child knows he is imagining these things. It could be that your child is simply enjoying the fantasy world and nothing is wrong.
Follow up with calm neutral questions about the fantasy. You might ask, “So the teddy bear talks to you? What does he say?” “So he tells you that the girls at school are being mean. He tells you that he will protect you.” A belief like this is not that uncommon and may be a coping strategy.
Find out if this fantasy serves a purpose. If your child thinks she is talking to Bon Jovi, ask questions like, “Do you think maybe his music and listening to him sing makes you feel better?” This scenario is very different than the situation that leads you to believe your child is seeing and hearing things and is not connected to reality.
Be on the look-out for persecutory delusions or command hallucinations. A child who hears a voice that says to hurt someone or who believes that the CIA is coming for her is experiencing a significant mental health problem. If the delusions are telling your child to do bad things or evoking extreme fears in your child, call your doctor calmly but quickly.
Delusions usually require a combination of therapies from a psychologist and a psychiatrist. Medications are available to treat psychosis. Psychotherapy can be helpful, and an evaluation may help to really understand the symptoms.
If your child is struggling with a similar problem, not directly addressed in this section, see the list below for links to information about other related symptom areas.
Children who have significant problems in this area may have any of the following potential disabilities. *Note, this does not serve as a diagnosis in any way. See ‘Where to Go for Help’ section for professionals who can diagnose or provide a referral.
If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his learning, relationships, or happiness, the following professionals could help; they may offer diagnosis, treatment, or both.
These professionals may recommend or administer the following tests for this symptom:
Torrey, E. Fuller (2006). Surviving Schizophrenia: A Manual for Families, Patients, and Providers (5th Edition) Publisher: Quill; 5th edition ISBN: 006084259
Seligman, Martin E.P. (1995). The optimistic child: A revolutionary program that safeguards children against depression and builds lifelong resilience.
Knaus, William & Ellis, Albert (2012). The cognitive behavioral workbook for depression: A step-by-step program.
Description: Wrong ideas
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Previously Licensed on: May 21, 2017
Stylized by Katie Harwood exclusively for Clear Child Psychology