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Six-Year-Old Gets Up Every Night

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Shari Nethersole, M.D.

Q: Last April my son had to have emergency surgery to remove an appendix testicle. The surgery went very well and there were no complications. My problem is that almost every night since then he gets up in the middle of the night and asks if his testicles and penis are okay. I try to reassure him and tell him that everything is fine, but I'm concerned with his sleep being interrupted, as well as my own sleep. He's six years old and in the first grade and I'm sure he's tired in school after getting up in the middle of the night. Any suggestions? Thank you.

A: My first response to your question is that I think that there is probably some other reason that your son is now getting up in the middle of the night and that he may be using that history of the surgery as an excuse. I'm sure that shortly after he had the surgery done, he likely had some anxiety about it and so for the first few nights, he legitimately woke up with those concerns. However, I think that he subsequently has gotten into a habit of getting up, particularly because he knows that he gets reassurance and comfort when that happens. I can think of no medical problem that would cause him to continue to have symptoms almost a year later that would cause him to wake up at night.

I also think that unless there were some other psychological issues, your child is not truly worried about his testicles and penis almost a year after he had his surgery. Thus, I would recommend trying to set some limits with him and encouraging him to stay in his own bed for the whole night. In particular, at his age, he should be very amenable to some sort of positive reinforcement system such as a sticker reward chart or some other incentive to remain in his bed. If it seems like that does not work and he truly does seem to be overly worried about his body, I would recommend that you consult with your pediatrician and a psychologist.

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Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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