Anxiety, stress, fears, worries or whatever name you want to give it, is something that we live with everyday. Anxiety is the fuel that gets us going. Do you work better under pressure? This is anxiety. How to you know to step out of the way of a car speeding down the street? Yes, that’s right, anxiety. It is our “fight or flight” reaction. There are times, however, when anxiety is not our friend and when it takes over and prevents us from leading our regular, everyday lives.
As children grow and develop they pass through different stages and each of these stages comes with fears that children develop and then they outgrow. In infancy children are afraid of loud noises and strangers. In early childhood we find that children have separation anxiety so that when a parent even leaves the room for a moment, the child will become distressed and cry. They are also afraid monsters and new situations are stressful for them. In middle childhood, real world dangers are frightening, such as war or earthquakes. New challenges are anxiety provoking as well. Finally, adolescents worry about social status and fitting in, finding a group to belong to and they experience anxiety around tasks involving their performance, whether it be a class presentation, completing a project or writing a test.
Each set of fears disappears as children grow out of one developmental stage and into the next only to find that there are new things to worry about! The key here is that children outgrow these fears but if they persist and interfere with their everyday lives, then your child may have an anxiety disorder. This means that your child may seek constant assurance and be afraid to try anything on his/her own. Does your child consistently avoid certain activities that other kids his/her age are enjoying or avoid doing them without a parent? Your child may have a lot of headaches or stomach aches and you may find yourself at the doctor’s a lot with your child. Does your child have any daily repetitive rituals? If you see these behaviours and they persist for several weeks seek the opinion of your family doctor for a diagnosis.
See Part 2 for what to do to help your child with anxiety.