Could Lyme disease in children lead to parental flooding?

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?

Could Lyme disease in children lead to parental flooding described in a recent paper?  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.

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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.

4 Replies to "Could Lyme disease in children lead to parental flooding?"

  • Jen
    10/07/2020 (12:44 am)

    I have no doubt that this occurs with patents of Lyme children – but what about their siblings? It seems plausible that it has a similar effect on them. Has this ever been studied?

  • Deborah Mason
    09/24/2020 (10:55 am)

    Forty years ago (1979-1980) in Black River Falls, WI, I was hospitalized and diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis affecting my knees. I also had an unexplained bullseye rash. Ten years later I was told by my doctor that it was determined that I had Lyme disease rather than JRA. Not enough was known about Lyme disease at the time of my illness. Therefore, I was never treated for it.
    As an adult I have had a myriad of health problems including idiopathic hypersomnia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, depression, and significant memory problems.
    Since my recent Lyme’s testing has come up negative, I have not been able to find a doctor who is willing to explore possible treatment options. I was referred to behavioral health providers instead. Is there any avenues for me to pursue appropriate answers – forty years later?

    • Dr. Daniel Cameron
      09/24/2020 (11:02 am)

      I also have patients who have been ill for decades.  I don’t think it is too late to try.  I would add a doctor familiar with Lyme disease to review your case. Call my office at 914 666 4665 if you have any additional questions.

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