Share past ‘silly’ predictions to ease child’s end-of-the-world fears


Q. My son is 9, and he is worried about the world ending on December 21. He watches survivor shows, and my ex-husband tells him “to always be ready for anything.” The kid is frightened. What should I do?

A. As almost everyone knows, this end-of-time fear is based on a misinterpretation of the ancient Mayan calendar. Despite the fact that most adults know that this media frenzy is sensationalism, many children become frightened because they believe everything they see on television or read on the Internet.

NASA scientists warn that unfounded fears about an apocalypse could be harmful to children and could increase suicide attempts among teens. These scientists report that they have received numerous e-mails from young people who are “too worried to sleep or eat.” In response, NASA scientists created an information page “debunking popular Mayan apocalypse rumors” (www.space.com). According to David Morrison, an astrobiologist at NASA, “This is just a manufactured fantasy. It’s evil for people to propagate rumors to frighten children.”

As a parent, you may want to share some of the NASA information with him. You may also share some of the silly predictions about the end of the world from past centuries. Here are a few that may entertain him:

• The Prophet Hen of Leeds (1806) - Hens began to lay eggs that said “Christ is Coming.” This sparked a religious fervor in Leeds, England until someone discovered that a prankster had been inscribing the eggs with ink and inserting them back into the chickens.

• Halley’s Comet (1910) - A French astronomer predicted that gas from Halley’s Comet would “possibly snuff out all life on the planet.” Scientists attempted to reassure the public that there was no threat; however, it did not stop people from buying anti-comet pills, anti-comet umbrellas, and gas masks.

• Warning from the Planet Clarion (1954) - A Chicago UFO fanatic claimed that she received information from the planet Clarion that a Supreme Being would gather his followers on December 21st, 1954. Many left their jobs and gave away their money and possessions only to awaken on December 22nd with no job and no resources.

Q. I am worried about my 10 year-old granddaughter. She says her teacher doesn’t like her. Her grades have fallen and she no longer likes school. Her teacher has not returned my calls, and I want to get this resolved. What should I do?

A. Most teachers are hard-working and have chosen the profession out of love for education. We would like to think that all teachers value their jobs and appreciate the uniqueness of every student, but sadly, that is not true. Sometimes teachers have personal problems, difficulties with administrators, or issues with discipline that impacts their attitudes toward their profession and their students.

It is possible that your granddaughter’s behavior is being caused by what psychologists term a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” a process by which the expectations of another can cause an individual to behave in the way that meets those expectations. In other words, if a teacher expects a student to perform poorly, that student is more likely to earn lower grades. If the teacher expects the same student to be more successful, that student is more likely to do well.

Before you blame the teacher, however, examine other potential sources of her discontent. According to research, parental expectations are even more important than teacher expectations. Are her parents in the picture? If so, they should understand the importance of being involved in her academic success.

Either you or her parents should make an appointment with the teacher. If she is not responsive, go directly to the principal. You may find that the problem is not the teacher, but bullying, unruly classmates, peer pressure, or anger toward her parents. Whatever the issue is, it should be resolved immediately so as not to interfere with her academic progress.

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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology. She teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College and maintains a limited private practice in Pine Bluff.