Tag Archives: anxiety

Anxiety in Children

I hear a lot about today’s kids being more stressed out than ever before, and that the cause is over-scheduling their downtime, pressure to succeed academically, or just neurotic parents. We don’t know how much of this is true, but we do know that identification of anxiety problems in kids is higher than in the past.  Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children.

What does anxiety look like in children?

Children may be fearful of a specific thing or situation (phobias) or they may experience anxiety in many different situations (generalized anxiety disorder). Just like adults, children can experience anxiety as a result of disruptive or traumatic event (adjustment disorder; post traumatic stress disorder) or for no apparent reason.

When is it a disorder?

Anxiety and fear are normal and protective reactions to harmful threats.  A benefit to a sensitive fight-or-flight response, is that anxious children may be less likely to engage in risky behavior.  However, a child whose anxiety and fear keep him from enjoying activities, functioning well in school, or making friends, may have a disorder that requires treatment.

Children with anxiety disorders are more likely to experience depression as well.  If untreated, an anxiety disorder may lead to academic problems, social problems, and substance abuse.

What to do if you suspect your child is anxious.

Don’t minimize your child’s fears (“Don’t be silly, there’s nothing to be scared about.”), but don’t reinforce his anxious behavior with lots of attention.  Offer support while helping him challenge irrational beliefs (“What do you think will happen if you don’t get an A on your math test?).

Children have a higher risk of developing anxiety if a parent has an anxiety disorder.  It is unclear how much genetics and environment play a role, but it is worth taking a hard look at the way you handle stress.  Do you verbalize your worries often? Do you make it clear that you get anxious if you don’t have things done a certain way?

DON’T take on the role of therapist if your child’s anxiety is a persistent issue. If your child’s anxiety is preventing her from doing the things she used to enjoy or inhibiting her academic or social development, talk to your pediatrician.  You can discuss your child’s symptoms and decide on next steps.

Starting Kindergarten

My “baby” is starting kindergarten in September and he’s a bit apprehensive. When we talk about it, he expresses his worry about the things that are unfamiliar to him. The bus, his new teacher, and his new classmates are things that seem to be on his mind. Commonly, a child’s anxiety about starting school has to do with uncertainty about what to expect. So, preparation is key if you want to set your kindergartner up for a good start. Here’s what I’ve learned as a school psychologist and as a mom.

Tips for Starting Kindergarten

  • Talk in a positive way about starting school. This rule should prevail all year long. When you say things like, “Ugh, I hate homework” or “Yuck, it’s almost time to go back to school,” you slowly strengthen the belief that learning is boring and painful, instead of fun and rewarding. So, focus on the things she likes, such as making new friends or playing games and sports.
  • Set up a time for your child to see inside his new school. Even better, tour the classroom and introduce him to the teacher.
  • Let her teacher know about your child’s apprehension about school. The teacher will be glad to have prior knowledge of her worries and may be able to ease her fears from Day 1.
  • Go shopping for school supplies with your child and try to find a couple of items he or she will be excited about, like a Superhero backpack, a personalized lunchbox, princess folders.
  • Help your child pick out a first day of school outfit he will be proud of. For example, if your child hates collared shirts (like mine does), compromise with a preppy t-shirt. Now’s not the time to fight that battle.
  • Practice reading and writing all summer. If he can’t do either on his own, DON’T put pressure on him to do so by the end of the summer. Instead, take baby steps. Insist he complete a task you know he can do once a day, like draw a picture after you have read him a book. Praise his hard work and build upon his successes with assignments of increasing difficulty.
  • Make play-dates now and when school starts. They may not become best friends, but the more familiar she can be with her classmates, the more invested she will be in attending class.
  • Be prepared parents! Check the deadlines and event dates and be on time for them. Don’t burden your child with the stress of missing the bus or misplacing important materials.
  • When you drop off your nervous child or get him on the bus, make your goodbyes short, sweet, and positive. Rather than following your child all the way to the classroom or indulging in “one more” tearful hug, give him one big hug, tell him it’s time to go with a smile, and get out of sight. If you give him and inch, he’ll take a mile!  Give him the slightest idea that you might stay or comfort him endlessly, and he will continue to be upset. Faculty at your school can be helpful, especially if forewarned, to help guide your child away from you and to the classroom and care for him until he gets more comfortable.
  • Set aside time every evening for your child to work with a caregiver to work on homework and reflect on her day. Start teaching good time management skills early.
  • Keep your own nerves in check. Your kindergartener will pick up on your anxiety, so speak positively about the new school year while creating excitement, not worry. Remember that most kids warm up to kindergarten within the first few weeks, so hang in there!

What’s your advice (or your worry) about you kids starting school?