Worries and fears are all part of normal child development. In my experience, anxiety can rule not only your child’s life, but it can rule your life as well. It’s sometimes hard for you to ascertain whether it’s a disorder and or just part of normal development. Let’s consider:
Recognising Normal Fears versus Anxiety Disorder
Fears and worries are a normal part of your child’s development. Most children are able to report having several fears at any given age. If the fear is not interfering with their daily life (e.g., sleep, school performance, social activities), or your family’s life, then most likely you will not need to bring your child to a health professional.
Anxiety disorders occur when:
- The intensity of the fear or worry is so high it starts to impact your child’s functioning and well-being.
- It impacts family life.
- The anxiety and level of worry are out of context with their developmental stage and age.
Recognising “Normal Fears “
Here is a list of really common fears within developmental ages and stages referenced from the Child Anxiety Network ( a great website on Anxiety)
Notice the older your child is, the more real the fear ( this is not an exhaustive list and remember every child develops at a different rate)
BABIES/TODDLERS (ages 0-2 years) loud noises, strangers, separation from parents, large objects and toilets.
PRE/SCHOOLERS(3-5 years) imaginary figures (e.g., ghosts, monsters, supernatural beings, the dark, noises, sleeping alone, thunder, floods)
SCHOOL AGED CHILDREN/ADOLESCENTS (6-13 years) Fears become more realistic (e.g., physical injury, health, school performance, death, thunderstorms, and Earthquakes.
Recognising Anxiety Symptoms
This is created by the fight or flight response. This is a bodily reaction and is governed by our Amygdala. Children are learning to recognize and talk about emotions, hence they are more likely to show it in physical symptoms such as:
- Lots of tummy aches
- Feeling sick
- Feeling dizzy
- Dry mouth
- Wanting to go to the toilet a lot
- Not being hungry or wanting to eat too much
- Worrying about family’s health and preoccupied with death
- Suffering from lots of ” what if ” thoughts, they often seem unrealistic and occur in the future.
- Sometimes, children “ruminate” over and over on something that occurred during the day at school (e.g. they may have got something wrong in a lesson)
- Thinking the worst, “catastrophizing” about what may occur.
Behavioural Symptoms of Anxiety
- Marked avoidance of certain situations that they used to do. ( people, school, places, and animals) this may start to impact on their day to day life.
- In younger children, prior to a situation, you may notice extreme aggression or meltdowns directed or alternatively distress and extreme crying.
- Not wanting to go to bed or sleep alone. Nighttime fears, waking in the night, and lots of nightmares.
- Safety behaviours, children develop routines, that they need to do to feel safe and keep the anxiety at bay. Other safety behaviours are seeking constant reassurance from you. Please note safety behaviours offer temporary relief and sometimes maintain the anxiety.
- Find it really hard to separate from you and want to cling to you.
- Some children do not speak in certain situations ” selective mutism”
- Some children develop fears around illness, they think they are ill but are actually anxious.
Note: Prolonged anxiety can lead to low mood and depression.
Types of Anxiety Disorder
Disclaimer: Please note, this is information, not advice. This blog is not intending to be in any way an alternative to specific advice. You must therefore obtain the relevant professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action based on the information in these webpages.
The Royal College of Psychiatry name five main types ( click on the headings of you want further information):
Sometimes your child’s fears about particular things (e.g. needles, animals) or places (e.g. darkness, heights) can be really strong. don’t go away and are called a phobia. They may need some help in overcoming them.
Some children feel anxious for no particular reason. For that reason, it can get in the way of concentrating at school and much more.
Children feel anxious about being away from you or the main caregiver. Because of that, it may interfere with attending school or going to social events.
You might notice your child is very comfortable with you and the people they know. However, they may avoid new situations, large groups, and hence avoid eating in front of others ( going to restaurants can be problematic).
A panic attack is an extreme form of anxiety, hence, during an attack, you may notice your child experiences, frightening thoughts, “that they may die” and lots of strong physical symptoms.
Furthermore, your child can suffer from PTSD, Agoraphobia, Health Anxiety, and Selective Mutism.
How can you help!
- Above all, teach your child an emotional language. What words do they have for fear?
- Externalise the problem, hence, give that part of them a name, the Worry Monster” or ” the Worry Wobbler” Remember it’s not the whole of them. Can they be a brave warrior and overcome the Anxiety?
- Educate your child and talk to your child about the cause of anxiety.
- Make links between physical sensations ( what happens in their body, headaches, tummy aches, etc and anxiety
- Teach them how to self-soothe and find ways they can calm.
- Mindfulness and breathing helps but not for every child, more ideas here https://bristolchildparentsupport.co.uk/relaxation-ideas-for-children/
- Finally, help them to face the feared situation, avoiding it will only help in the short term.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and thank you for your commitment to the wellbeing of your child and your family. Remember: parenting is hard work and you all deserve support. Please share the gratitude and love by sharing and liking my Facebook Page and do contact me if you feel you need some support. With Love Catherine