It is normal for children to worry. Most worry about the first day of school, taking an important test, or speaking in front of the class. Sometimes, this worry is good. It can help to motivate us to do better and try harder. It can alert us to danger. But sometimes, our children worry so much it begins to interfere with their daily life. For example, if your child worries so much about doing well in school that he is getting stomach aches each morning or is refusing to go to school, there might be a need to talk with a doctor or have an assessment for an anxiety disorder.
As adults, we understand the difference between normal and excessive worrying, but children may not. They may assume their worry and fears are normal and are telling them to avoid certain situations. It is up to us, as parents, to explain the difference between normal worry and an anxiety disorder to a child. Giving them the knowledge and understand can help empower them to overcome their fears, after all, you can't overcome something when you don't know it is a problem to begin with.
Jimmy is going into the 4th grade. His family has recently moved and he is starting a new school. He is nervous and scared, he doesn't know anyone. It is normal to be anxious about this situation and his parents tell him it is normal to be scared, but that everything will be okay. Jimmy, however, can't stop worrying, every day he thinks about the new school and every day his fear grows. Soon, Jimmy's stomach starts hurting, he is getting headaches and feels shaky, sometimes he feels like he can't breathe. He remembers that his parents told him being scared was normal, so he thinks the fear he is feeling is reasonable. He doesn't understand the difference between being nervous and being excessively worried. By the time the first day of school comes, Jimmy is so scared he doesn't want to go to school and when he does, he feels ill the entire day, he can't talk to anyone and sits by himself. He comes home miserable.
Jimmy never bothered to tell his parents how intense his fears were. Like most children, he assumed his level of fear was appropriate. Had Jimmy talked with his parents about his fears and that he was having physical symptoms, his parents could have helped him. The New York University Child Study Center explains that "With knowledge comes confidence, a sense of control and optimism in being able to successfully meet a challenge." Some of their suggestions are:
Use Information Appropriate for Your Child's Age
Young children learn best when given short, simple statements. They need to know that their feelings of anxiety are not their fault or they are not bad because they have fears.
Elementary age children need specific facts. For example, you can explain specific ways of knowing the difference between normal worry and anxiety. You can explain that everyone becomes nervous but if physical symptoms begin, such as stomach aches, then he should come and talk to you. In addition, children this age understand steps to take. You can explain, when you begin to feel nervous, take slow, shallow breaths and focus on something relaxing or happy.