Help kids cope with anxieties and worries

We all worry at times. It’s no different for kids. Depending on the age, kids worry about being apart from their parents, friendships, appearance, grades, new situations, and the future. As a parent, when should you worry about worry?   

Worry and anxiety are normal, especially during times of change like moving to a new city, starting a new school, divorce, and a death in the family. Worry is also normal during a stressful time at school or with friends. When your child is entering a new situation, combat worry with reassurance and planning.

If you have a naturally anxious child, make a conscious effort to model calm. It’s best for parents to zip it in front of their kids when it comes to expressing worries.

Fears, such as stranger anxiety, mild separation anxiety, and even some phobias are normal. But if your child avoids situations, becomes unhappy, or is paralyzed by fear, it’s time to seek help. Kids ages 6 to 9 may express anxiety through frequent nightmares or trouble sleeping. Usually, this passes with time and reassurance.

It’s best to help kids face school fears and other anxieties early before avoidance habits are ingrained. Kids can change their thinking fairly quickly. If your child starts a pattern of not wanting to go to school, leave the house, or be separated from you, it’s time to ask questions. Talk it out, name the fear, and support them in overcoming it.

Kids can also feel anxiety around tests and grades. If your child is trying at school but struggling, set realistic goals and reassure him or her that you think they’re smart and that trying hard is all you expect. If you suspect a learning problem, have your child evaluated.    

General anxiety—worries about bad things happening—is experienced more commonly by kids ages 9 to 14. That’s the age when they understand mortality and that death is permanent.

When your child shows this kind of fear, flush it out. Did it happen because of some traumatic event? Did he hear or read about someone dying? Or, has he always been anxious and is getting worse?.         

Besides budding worries about appearance and fitting in with peers, pre-teens and teens might worry about war, violence and world disasters. Regardless, don’t immediately switch off the news or throw away the newspaper. Since we can’t completely protect older kids from information, it’s best to process it together. Watch a brief report on a big event with your kids then turn it off and discuss it. Yet watching news as a habit isn’t healthy for kids.

To conquer anxieties, kids need to walk through the fear and learn that they can come out fine on the other side. Encourage risk taking and letting her learn from her own mistakes. Kids who fall learn how to pick themselves up.  But if they have a true phobia, don’t press them to face it. Leave that to the professionals.

Bottom line, all kids are anxious sometimes. Usually, worries and anxiety pass when stressful situations pass. So take a deep breath and know that you will know if, and when, it’s time to seek help.