Why is my child so anxious?
As children get older, they experience more everyday pressure, and this can give rise to a good deal of anxiety. Anxiety can result when a child feels they may be likely to fail at any of these things. In addition, your child may react to stresses and issues within the family as well as the world beyond: A divorce, a parent's losing a job, a car accident, even a story on the evening news can trigger feelings of distress, fear, and helplessness. At this age, children begin to think more about death, realising that it's real and happens to everyone -- not only the bad guy on TV, but parents and children as well. Consequently, your child may have trouble falling asleep after watching a movie in which someone dies or refuse to go to school if you're ill. Provide your child plenty of opportunities to discuss specific fears, especially if they've arisen from events in your household.
Ask yourself whether your child has spells of anxiety linked to particular events, or if your child is anxious day in and day out. While all children are anxious before having to do certain things, , some become apprehensive even when going about their daily routines. If that's the case with your child, it's possible that your child's worries are overwhelming the ability to cope.
Generally speaking, you should be concerned if your child's fears or constant worrying begin to hamper the ability to participate in school, family or social activities. Your child may also need some special help if you've repeatedly reassured him, yet the fears are as strong as ever.
About 1 in 10 children have difficulties managing anxiety but they can be difficult to identify as they are often very well behaved and seemingly well adjusted. Despite appearances these children spend a significant amount of time worrying and avoiding situations which they are afraid of - the consequences of this can be sleeping difficulties, high levels of stress, physical symptoms such as stomach and head aches, and missing out on age appropriate activities. Ultimately these children are at a higher risk of later developing serious anxiety disorders and depression, and are less likely to reach their learning potential.
So, what can you do to help?
Providing reassurance: is this the right thing?
Reassuring your child is usually the most common strategy for children who are worried about small, everyday events. Commonly, parents will offer reassurance, and highlight shared experiences: "There's nothing to be worried about... You will be fine once you get going...Your brother has to do it, too" Surprisingly, reassurance is not helpful for truly anxious children.
The problem with this approach is that the child DOES have a worry. To them, there is something to worry about, and they are worrying. They know they WON'T be fine. The child will either dismiss the reassurance: "she doesn't get it...", or will seek more and more reassurance, setting up a dependency cycle where the child becomes more hesitant to take risks.
A better approach is to acknowledge the anxiety, right up front. "I can see you're really worried about this, and you're not going to be able to do this right now".
The best strategy is to help children come up with their own strategies, and do their own problem solving. For example, if a child is worrying about what is required in a particular task or activity, and whether their work so far is correct, ask them, "how could you find out? where could you get the information? how do you think you are doing so far?...." - try to encourage them to work it out for themselves.
You may find for anxious children, you need to hold off on reassurance even more than for non - anxious children, just to create the opportunity for them to learn that they can do things for themselves and solve their own problems.
Challenging the worrying
For children whose worries are affecting everyday life, and where the worry seems much greater than it really needs to be, you need to help them challenge the thinking that is underlying the worry. This takes particular skills, and you may need to talk to a School Counsellor or a Psychologist about this. Challenging the thinking involves three steps:
Other ways to help your child:
Jenni Pearce, Psychologist (2009)
Child & Educational Psychology
6 Edward Street, NORWOOD 5067 South Australia, Australia.
Telephone: 0407 726 332
Fax: (08) 8362 0332