How to spot if your child's anxiety is out of control
"Anxiety cannot protect you from the ills of tomorrow. But it can rob you of the joy that is today."
As a psychologist, a subject that I'm asked about frequently is anxiety in children, or a child who might be described as 'very sensitive'. It is important to say from the outset that a certain amount of anxiety is normal in childhood, as it is a time of constant change and development. However, as a parent I know that it's not always easy to know what is and isn't normal.
Here are just some common examples of normal developmental anxiety in children by age group:
0 - 6 months: Infants can become anxious about loud noises, people suddenly appearing, and loss of physical support.
6 months - 1 year: At this stage it is normal for older babies to become anxious about height and/or depth, unknown people or objects, and being separated from a parent.
1 - 2 years: Toddlers are often anxious about things in nature, such as thunder and lightening or the sea. One of my children was absolutely petrified of grass at this age - difficult when you live in the countryside!
2 - 4 years: This age group frequently become anxious about touching animals or seeing blood.
4 - 6 years: This is the age-range that become particularly concerned about the unknown; they may be anxious about sleeping in the dark, monsters lurking, or potential changes to their bodies (for example, if they have to go to the doctor or have their hair cut).
6 - 12 years: Childhood anxiety becomes more of a grey area in this stage of development. Children become more anxious about being judged by others, and fear of failure becomes more of an issue. You may notice that your child gets worried about 'failing', either at a task, sport, or letting others down in some way. In addition, children of this age begin to anticipate negative events, e.g. what they would do if their parents split up.
12 - 18 years: The teenage years are a whole separate chapter as many parents know! At a basic level, teens continue to be predominantly anxious about being judged by their peers, even more so by the opposite sex. Anxiety during these years tends to be more 'existential' or 'philosophical' and often manifests itself through perceived 'dangers' that have nothing directly to do with the young person, such as war, or questions like "who am I?" or "why am I here?".
When to seek help
Just as with adults, anxiety becomes a problem when it starts to interfere with day-to-day life, behaviour, and functioning. If your child is getting so caught up in their worries and fears that they can't (or won't) attend school, sports, or socialise, then it may be time to seek professional advice.
Look out for continued emotional outbursts or attempts to 'get out of' normal activities, which may indicate that their anxiety levels have increased. A qualified child psychologist can work with your child to help them to manage their anxiety and provide new, or different, coping skills so that they can feel more secure.
Do you have a sensitive smallie in your house? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the Facebook comments.
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