Anxiety in Children: When Does Normal Apprehension and Fear Turn Problematic?

Published: 03rd March 2011
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Everyone experiences fear and anxiety throughout their lives, yet understanding the fear and anxiety the people we love experience is very difficult, especially in children. It is normal for parents to want to know if the anxiety and fear their child is experiencing is normal. Parents find themselves asking, "How do I tell the difference between normal fears and abnormal fears?" Or parents might ask, "How do I know if my child's fear is becoming a problem?" What a parent really wants to know is, "How can I help my children be the best they can be?" It is important to seek answers to these questions as soon as a parent has the, "Something is not right" feeling.

If a parent waits until a child’s anxiety has become problematic then the child may already be showing signs that treatment is appropriate. Some of those signs are poor schoolwork, below average grades, disinterest in friends, avoidance of social situations, and even drug abuse. Children experience fear and anxiety as a part of the learning process involved in growing up. In an otherwise healthy child a parent can help the child overcome fear and anxiety by talking about the fears with them. Through healthy discussion and a parent's comfort, these children are usually able to overcome the majority of fears and anxiety that they feel. Most psychologists recommend parents gradually and lovingly expose healthy children to their fears to help them overcome them.

A child without an anxiety disorder may not like this but will respond comparatively easier than a child with an anxiety disorder. It is normal for children to want to try new things and meet new people, even if they do have a certain degree of anxiety about it. In a healthy child working through anxiety takes time and effort from the parent and the child; in a child experiencing excessive anxiety, this time will seem to consume most of your life! In either case, overcoming fear and anxiety is seldom instantaneous. The most important question becomes, "How does the child's fear and anxiety affect the quality of the child's life and the family as a functioning unit?"

A parent of a child who has an anxiety disorder will be able to come up with clear answers for this question as the disruption and impact will likely be fairly obvious. Many parents who have a child who suffers with anxiety feel a certain amount of guilt and sorrow for their child. If a parent has tried to comfort their child, talk things through with their child, and use exposure with their child and seen little or no improvement, then a parent must understand that it is NOT their fault. A parent must understand that the child has a war going on inside their head and they need their parents to stay strong to help support them through it and ensure they receive proper treatment. "Never blame yourself", is rule number one. This will only get in the way of your thought process and interfere with your child's progress and recovery from anxiety.

If you feel that you may be in a position where your child's fear and anxiety is not normal then you must move into the stage of acceptance. In this stage a parent recognizes and accepts that the fear and anxiety may have already become problematic. Once you have moved into the acceptance phase you can begin to create a plan to help your child cope with their fear and anxiety. The best way to do this is to begin arming yourself with as much information about children and anxiety as possible. When you learn the difference between what is normal and what is not, you will begin to gain understanding of problematic behaviors. One of the first things you want to know is what the signs and symptoms of excessive anxiety are and what they mean.

The symptoms that accompany childhood anxiety disorders can be confusing because there are both physical and emotional symptoms. There are also many different kinds of anxiety disorders, making it difficult to diagnosis. Some common emotional symptoms are: feeling restless, worry that interferes with daily life, feeling jumpy, sleeping problems and more. Some of the physical symptoms are: sweating, racing heart, headache, sleepwalking, insomnia and more. If you are seeing these symptoms in your child it might be a sign that they are feeling excessive anxiety that could lead them to problematic behaviors.

An important factor for parents to understand is that children can pick up what is happening around them quite easily. If you begin to see signs and symptoms of excessive anxiety in one or more of your children you must try to remain calm and supportive. It is very common for a parent to begin to worry about their child and for the child to pick up on this. Then the child will feed on that anxiety and magnify their own. When this happens a child will begin to show more signs and symptoms and may begin to act out. Keep it mind that it is not your fault; it is more of a question of how you can help your child. To help your child keep on asking questions and looking for answers. Read anything and everything that you can get your hands on that relates to overcoming child anxiety such as the information contained in the Anxiety Free Child Program.

It is also extremely helpful to think back over your child's life and gauge what their natural temperament has been over the course of their life. Ask yourself some questions and start taking notes. How did they act as a baby? How did they express feelings before they could talk? If you can document these things then it will be a useful tool for you if you should choose treat your child’s anxiety issues, as well as being a resource for you that will give you a bigger picture of the anxiety. Understanding anxiety in children, your child, and having documented information will help you decide what the best course of action will be. The parents are the ones who live daily life with the child and are the first line of defense against a childhood anxiety disorder following their child into adulthood and becoming a life long challenge.

If you feel that your child is experiencing fear and anxiety that is beyond normal then it is important to speak with your general practitioner to rule out any physical reasons for the anxiety. If comforting your child is not working and talking things through with the child has become impossible then seek help. Anxiety in children can become very severe and will begin to affect their lives in countless negative ways. A child may begin to recede from their surroundings, they may begin to hate school or refuse to attend, they might have trouble forging relationships with teachers and parents. These problems will grow until the child begins to act out on their fears and the child may become very angry. Having a child with anxiety is difficult and overwhelming, but remember, there is help.

The Anxiety-Free Child Program:

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