Anxiety and Fear in Children

anxiety-fear-childrenThere are lots of things to worry about in the world. For parents, keeping the scarier parts of life away from children is often the goal.

It is important to remember though that worry and even anxiety are a normal part of life. It can help a person become motivated and set goals, but when it becomes overwhelming and interferes with your life, that’s when it is a problem. For children, anxiety may interfere with them getting to sleep, separating from their parent, getting a needle, or talking to a peer.

When there are real events in our lives [and in our communities] that are scary, for example, the Air Canada crash on March 28th, it can be really tough to explain this to children without creating more fear. We all know that talking to children about their worries can be a challenge, as they usually believe the worries are true. When there is news event, remember to explain the situation at a level appropriate for the age of the child. Sometimes, it may be the case that they do not even need to know about it. The key is to make your explanation developmentally appropriate. Listening to what they’re specifically concerned about means you can address the cause of their worry at its foundation.

TIPS TO LET YOUR CHILDREN KNOW YOU’RE LISTENING

  • When your children are talking about concerns, stop whatever you are doing and listen.
  • Express interest in what they are saying without being intrusive.
  • Listen to their point of view, even if it’s difficult to hear.
  • Let them complete their point before you respond.
  • Repeat what you heard them say to ensure that you understand them correctly.

WHEN TO WORRY ABOUT ANIXETY

It can be normal for children to be afraid or nervous of new situations or things they’ve heard about in the news. The problem is when the level of anxiety is great enough to interfere with everyday activities. Types of anxiety range from generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobia, separation disorder, panic disorder to selective mutism and/or obsessive compulsive disorder. Dr. Pure indicates that it is important to differentiate between anxiety and difficulties coping to one or more situations, as well as to determine if the anxiety or worry your child feels goes beyond what is considered typical for a child’s age and/or gender.

WHAT DO WE RECOMMEND YOU DO?

Parents who are concerned about their children’s level of fear can do a number of things. Anticipate situations that might be scary for your children and help them prepare. Teach your chid to be a “detective”; that is, teach them to think about clues that support their worry. Ask them: How do you know it’s true? Often their worry is not supported by a lot of evidence. Teach your children about thoughts and how they are the words we say to ourselves without speaking out loud. Teach them to think about their thinking and replace worry thoughts with helpful thoughts. By identifying worried thinking you can help your children replace it with realistic thinking. Helping them learn to look for evidence to their worry often shows that there isn’t a lot to worry about in the end.

Also let them know that they should not believe everything they are thinking.

Reading books and making up stories or acting out situations that deal with your child’s concerns can help.

Help your children understand what’s making them feel worried by asking specific questions like, what’s making you feel scared, what do you think will happen, why do you think it’s going to happen?

And explain that thinking something does not mean something bad will happen. For example, thinking that a dog is going to bite you does not mean it is going to happen; thinking that you are going to do badly on a test, does not mean you will do badly. Make sure to talk to your child about how anxious thoughts and feelings are normal. They are one way of feeling and thinking that can be changed if you want to change.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MORE INFORMATION on Anxiety and Fear in Children:

BRIDGEtheGapp AN APP for teens to help support them with a variety of issues. Dr. Pure has had feedback from a number of teens who LOVE this APP as a resource. Bridge the gAPP was made possible thanks to generous contributions from the Canada Post Community Foundation and the Janeway Children’s Hospital Foundation.

www.anxietybc.com A wonderful website that provides resources for anxiety management in children and youth.

What to do When Good Enough Isn’t Good Enough-The Real Deal on Perfectionism: A Guide for Kids by Thomas Greenspoon (2007)

Helping Your Anxious Child: A Step by Step Guide for Parents by Rapee and Wignall (2008).

Written by Meredith O’Hara in consultation with Kiran Pure, PHD, Registered Psychologist