We’re all feeling anxious in the era of COVID-19. Our daily routines have been disrupted, simple tasks like grocery shopping are now much more complicated, we’re separated from from friends and family, and there’s the possibility of becoming infected. Some families are also experiencing financial distress or have lost family members to the virus.
As an adult, you know what stress and anxiety feel and look like for you, but how do children exhibit these emotions? This repost from 2018, describes how to identify anxiety in your child and how to help.
The world is big and new to young children, and…fears of the unknown are common.
For parents of young children, watching your son or daughter exhibit potential symptoms of anxiety can feel particularly distressing. As a parent, you strive to make childhood a carefree, joyful time. But even in loving, safe, and supportive households, issues of anxiety can still come up.
If you suspect your child is showing signs of anxiety, it’s important to first understand that you are not alone. In fact, it is estimated that between 12% and 24% of American children suffer from psychological disorders at some point in their development.¹ The good news is, there are many resources available to help your child manage anxiety and get back to the business of being a kid.
Parents often feel confused (and anxious themselves!) when trying to navigate anxiety issues. Taking it one step at a time can be helpful. First, you’ll want to determine if your child is experiencing anxiety—or simply feeling an appropriate amount of worry for their age.
What is the difference between anxiety and worry?
One of the most important markers of anxiety is proportion. A child suffering from an anxiety disorder may be overwhelmed by intense fear or worry that do not match the situation.2 For example, a child suffering from separation anxiety may be so consumed by fear that something bad will happen when away from their parents, they may refuse to go to school. It’s normal for a child to experience some hesitation when leaving their parents, but if it is impacting their ability to enjoy time with their friends or leave their parents’ side, it can be considered more than an ordinary worry.
Children experience a myriad of fears that can be elevated from worry to anxiety. In addition to separation anxiety, fear of the dark, strangers, doctors, and even a fear of rejection by their peers are just a few common worries. Whatever the worries are, and no matter how trivial they may seem to an adult, their concerns should be taken seriously. The world is big and new to young children, and therefore fears of the unknown are common.
What are signs of anxiety in children?
Keep in mind that every child is different, but there are some typical signs of anxiety in children.
Symptoms tend to present themselves both physically and emotionally. You may find that your child asks the same questions repeatedly and needs constant reassurance about a fear, but doesn’t find relief in your answers.3 Or your child may have trouble sleeping, or may even show signs of regression (such as wetting the bed after being potty trained). Symptoms may also present as bad behavior—throwing temper tantrums beyond a developmentally appropriate age or refusing to respond to parental direction, for example.
If your child is showing some of these signs, it’s important to pay attention to the intensity, frequency, and severity of their reactions.4 A child may develop a fear of dogs, for example, because a dog growled at her on the street. But if the fear doesn’t subside within a few weeks, a worry may be elevated to anxiety. Keep in mind, too, that there are several different types of anxiety disorders that your child may be experiencing, such as separation anxiety, phobias, or social anxiety disorder.
How can I help my child with anxiety?
In all cases, it will be extremely important to get to the root cause of the anxiety and resulting behavior. You can start by noting when your child is exhibiting anxious behaviors. Is it always before visiting a certain friend? The root cause could be bullying by that friend. Is it always right before bed? Your child may be afraid of the dark. Noting the where and when of anxious behaviors can be helpful for both parents and professionals when strategizing how to help your child.
If you’ve determined that your child is showing prolonged signs of anxiety, seeking professional help is an important step in helping your child find relief. Again, remember that anxiety in young children can be a normal part of development and, as a parent, you play an integral role in helping your child manage his or her anxiety.
If you are parenting a child with anxiety, the related books from Magination Press listed below may help.
1How to Find Mental Health Care for Your Child by Ellen B. Braaten, PhD, page 4
3What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner, PhD
4How to Find Mental Health Care for Your Child by Ellen B. Braaten, PhD, page 14
Related Books from Magination Press
Emily Grace and the What-Ifs: A Story for Children About Nighttime Fears
What if a big rhinoceros charges out through my closet door and pulls all my covers off and I get cold and catch pneumonia?
What if I wake up tomorrow and I am a princess far, far away from home, all by myself?
Emily Grace faces her fears and calms herself…and eventually thinks, “What if I close my eyes now and go to sleep?”
Includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers with more information and strategies for coping with bedtime struggles. (picture book, ages 4-8)
A Feel Better Book for Little Worriers
Worries can feel like a BIG problem to a LITTLE kid!
A Feel Better Book for Little Worriers assures kids that having some worries is normal — everyone has them, even adults!
The rhyming narration helps kids to identify a worry and where it might come from, as well as provides them with helpful tools to reduce and cope with worries.
Includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers with more information on how you can help your little worrier to stay calm. (picture book, ages 3-6)
How to Find Mental Health Care for Your Child
In How to Find Mental Health Care for Your Child, seasoned child psychologist and author Ellen B. Braaten offers clear and expert guidance to help anxious parents navigate the complexities of mental health care.
Divided into three thorough and well-organized parts, the book first provides an overview of the issues involved in diagnosing and treating children. It then gives detailed information on the most common childhood disorders and addresses key symptoms, possible causes, and treatment options. In the final chapters, Dr. Braaten discusses the primary treatment approaches in more depth, such as their typical course, what disorders they are used to treat, and how to determine their effectiveness.
Parents seeking the best mental health care for their child will learn what other parents did in real situations when confronted with similar problems and will be reassured, supported, and empowered throughout their journey.
Jacqueline and the Beanstalk: A Tale of Facing Giant Fears
Once upon a time, there lived a princess named Jacqueline. The royal knights protected her from danger — even if there wasn’t any!
When Jacqueline climbs the beanstalk, she meets a giant who is just as afraid of the knights. In this modern retelling of a classic fairy tale, Jacqueline shows everyone that there’s nothing to be afraid of after all.
Includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers with worry-busting strategies and calming tools. (picture book, ages 4-8)
The Magic Box: When Parents Can’t Be There to Tuck You In
Casey’s dad has to go away for a couple of days…AGAIN! Casey hates it when his father has to travel. But this time Dad leaves behind a special gift that will help Casey cope with the absence, and with future trips as well. This upbeat and charmingly illustrated book contains a wealth of tips for families in which a parent is often away from home.
A Note to Parents by Ann Rasmussen, PsyD, helps parents understand what their children are facing, reassures parents of the value of these separations, and suggests many practical techniques for helping the child before, during, and after an absence. (picture book, ages 3-7)
Sometimes I’m Scared
Fire! Spiders! Thunder! Clowns! Monsters!
Kids can be afraid of lots of things It’s normal. But these fears can seem really big!
Well, have no fear; Sometimes I’m Scared is here. This book outlines easy steps kids can use to overcome their everyday fears.
An extensive Note to Parents gives parents additional information on why fears naturally develop and how to help their kids understand and deal with common fears. (picture book, ages 4-8)
What to Do When Fear Interferes: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Phobias
Lots of kids are a little afraid of some things, like heights or spiders. But some kids are so afraid that it stops them from having fun. Does this sound like you?
If your fear is getting in the way of everyday activities, this book is for you!
What to Do When Fear Interferes guides children and their parents through overcoming phobias using strategies and techniques based on cognitive-behavioral principles.
This interactive self-help book is the complete resource for educating, motivating, and empowering children to overcome their fears — so they can blast off to new adventures!
When Fuzzy Was Afraid of Big and Loud Things
Fuzzy the Little Sheep is back again, in this charming third addition to the series about dealing with common fears.
In this tale, Fuzzy is afraid of loud sounds such as thunder and lightning, and the large animals on the farm making big noises! Fuzzy’s father helps him desensitize to these big and loud noises using a number of behavioral practices. Each time Fuzzy is afraid, his father gently encourages and reassures him, helping him imaginatively practice exposure to the loud sounds so he can get used to them, and also acquainting Fuzzy with the sources of his fears so they seem less frightening. (picture book, ages 3-7)
When Lizzy Was Afraid of Trying New Things
Lizzy the Sheep is shy and afraid of failing or making mistakes, so she refuses to play and try new things. Her big brother Fuzzy devises a plan whereby she gets to add a new stone to a rock pile every time she tries something new. She starts out small, but eventually tries more and more things as she gets excited by the growing rock pile and realizes how much fun she is having in her play. (picture book, ages 3-7)