Childhood Fears and Anxiety: What Can Parents Do?
By Lisa Pecos
A certain amount of fear and anxiety is a natural part of life. It is what drives us to take precautions and to keep ourselves and our families safe. In children, while fear and anxiety are often illogical, they are in many respects an important part of growing up. But in some children these feelings can become excessive, and the effects may actually hinder learning and growth.
Where these feelings become problematic is where they are not tied to reality and are persistent. It is normal for a child to have a fear that disturbs her every night for a brief phase, but if the phase does not pass soon and the fear continues for months, it becomes a problem. Meanwhile, if a child is consistently anxious about things that are not worrying or dangerous, this can be a sign of deeper disturbances and a potential for future problems.
In such cases, it is usually a good idea for parents to seek professional help for the child. Doctors trained in child psychology know how to handle these things and can offer lots of potential solutions.
When is fear normal?
In many cases, some fear is normal—for example:
· Babies and toddlers tend to experience stranger anxiety and separation anxiety, both of which are natural developmental stages.
· Older children are naturally afraid of the dark as well as of things that do not exist, such as monsters and ghosts.
· Kids are naturally afraid of real things they hear about in school or on television, such as house fires, natural disasters, and serious crimes.
Fears such as these come and go through a child's upbringing, and they are mostly nothing to worry about. As long as your child is well adjusted and happy and functions well both at home and at school, these fears are perfectly normal. There can even be some fun in them; what child has not delighted in telling ghost stories with friends?
Dealing with anxiety
Anxiety is another matter. Again, some anxiety is to be expected in people of all ages. We all have things that worry us, whether irrationally or based on actual experience. In healthy people, anxiety can even help shape us in positive ways. But in kids as much as in adults, too much anxiety can become a serious mood disorder.
When determining whether your child's anxiety is normal, first consider whether the behavior fits the stage your child is in. For example, almost all babies are afraid of strangers for at least a brief period in their first or second year. Also understand that your child is likely to have more anxiety around times of transition or instability. If you are moving to a new town, for example, or if your child is starting in a new school, some anxiety is understandable.
Anxiety becomes a problem when it inhibits a child's ability to function normally. If he or she has anxiety attacks at school, if the feelings prevent her from performing her educational activities, or if the anxiety makes her seem unhappy overall, there is good reason for concern.
With both fear and anxiety, the most important thing for parents to do is try to understand. Do not belittle or dismiss your child's feelings. Instead, take them seriously, and talk about the feelings as much as possible. Learn coping strategies and try to pass them on to your child. And if everything you try fails, do not be afraid to seek professional help.
Lisa Pecos is a wife and well accomplished writer on natural remedies and natural approaches to treating newborn colic. She's written numerous articles for Natural Health Journals.com, Parenting Journals.com and Baby Care Journals.com.