lyme disease in children

I have found that in my practice, Lyme disease in children can cause emotional, educational, and social issues, oftentimes with debilitating consequences. Some of the parents have felt overwhelmed by their child’s illness. Could there be parental flooding during conflicts with a child who has Lyme disease?

Parents experiencing flooding “are overwhelmed by the intensity and aversive nature of child negative affect,” writes Del Vecchio and colleagues in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.1

When this occurs, parents “may be less likely to react effectively and instead may focus on escaping the aversive situation, disciplining either overly permissively or punitively to escape quickly from child negative affect.”

Lyme disease in children can trigger behavioral changes, including extreme mood swings, explosive anger, and aggressiveness.2 Managing these symptoms can be exhausting for parents and overwhelming. In such cases, parental flooding may likely occur.

The authors created the Parent Flooding Scale (PFS) to assess “the extent to which parents believe their children’s negative affect during parent-child conflicts is unexpected, overwhelming, and distressing.” Such a scale may be helpful to therapists working with parents and children who have Lyme disease.

READ MORE: When Lyme disease in children causes oppositional behavior

Flooding does not refer to a particular emotional experience (i.e., sadness or anger), but rather the degree to which another person’s emotion is experienced as overpowering and interfering, explains Del Vecchio.

When flooded, the sympathetic nervous system is heightened and the parental reaction is “thought to overwhelm rational deliberation, making it difficult to attend to the situation and engage in calm, organized behaviors.

Parents may employ an “escape-conditioning model,” the authors explain. “To the extent that some parents are overwhelmed by the intensity and aversive nature of these emotional experiences, they may consequently employ a discipline response, often either overly permissive or punitive, that offers the quickest escape from child negative affect.”

Editor’s note:

For the purposes of transparency, I am not a trained psychiatrist or psychologist. I am using this paper on flooding to better understand my patients. I would find research in this area helpful.

  1. Del Vecchio T, Lorber MF, Slep AM, Malik J, Heyman RE, Foran HM. Parental Flooding During Conflict: A Psychometric Evaluation of a New Scale. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2016;44(8):1587-1597.
  2. Bransfield RC. Aggressiveness, violence, homicidality, homicide, and Lyme disease. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2018;14:693-713.
We definitely struggled with this and our kids weren’t even infected, but we sure were.  We seemed much less capable of remaining calm and logical in stressful situations – particularly with children who were just acting like children.  It didn’t help to be our sickest when they were all in puberty!
It was better when one of us was “with it,” but absolutely horrible when we were both affected.  The worse we felt, the worse we acted.
I agree with Dr. Cameron – we need more information on these important topics.
Lyme is over 40 years old and we have so little to show for it. Doctors are still uneducated and patients are still commonly being misdiagnosed. Patients are still misunderstood and being told, “It’s all in your head.”
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