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
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)
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)
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 You Don’t Want to Be Apart: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Separation Anxiety
Hot air balloon pilots have wonderful adventures, where they get to see things they have never seen before and learn all about the world outside.
Flying a hot air balloon sounds like a lot of fun to some kids. But for other kids, the idea of flying off on their own, away from their parents or homes, doesn’t sound like fun at all. If you feel scared when you do something alone or away from your parents, this book is for you!
What to Do When You Don’t Want to Be Apart guides children and their parents through the emotions underlying separation anxiety 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 separation anxiety — so they can become the confident pilots of their very own hot air balloons!
This book is part of the Magination Press What-to-Do Guides for Kids® series. (picture book, ages 6-10)
What to Do When You Feel Too Shy: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Social Anxiety
Circus clowns perform tricks and make us laugh. They wear bright colors, big shoes, and all kinds of wigs and colorful hats. Have you noticed that they seem to like people looking at them and laughing at them?
Lots of kids feel shy when they feel that other people notice them. But some kids get super uncomfortable being in the spotlight. Does this sound like you? If you feel too shy or nervous too often, or if you miss out on cool activities and fun because you worry about what other people might think about you, this book is for you!
What to Do When You Feel Too Shy guides children and their parents through the emotions underlying social anxiety 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 social anxiety — so they can join in the circus of fun and friends!
This book is part of the Magination Press What-to-Do Guides for Kids® series. (picture book, ages 6-12)
What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety
What to Do When You Worry Too Much is an interactive self-help book designed to guide 6–12 year olds and their parents through the cognitive-behavioral techniques most often used in the treatment of generalized anxiety. Metaphors and humorous illustrations make difficult concepts easy to understand, while prompts to draw and write help children to master new skills related to reducing anxiety.
Engaging, encouraging, and easy to follow, this book educates, motivates, and empowers children to work towards change. Includes a note to parents by psychologist and author Dawn Huebner, PhD.
This book is part of the Magination Press What-to-Do Guides for Kids® series. (picture book, ages 6-12)
When Fuzzy Was Afraid of Losing His Mother
While Fuzzy the Little Sheep is out playing with his friends, he falls and skins his knee. He searches for his mother, can’t find her, and feels scared and alone. Fuzzy soon finds his mom, but then he is afraid to let her out of his sight. Fuzzy’s mother has several ideas to help him cope with being away from her, which he practices, and eventually he is able to play comfortably with his friends and not be near her. (picture book, ages 3-7)
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)