Anxiety in Children
Anxiety is defined as “apprehension without apparent cause.” Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune.” It usually happens when there is no immediate threat to a person’s safety or well being, but the threat feels real. Anxiety makes a person want to escape the situation – fast. The heart beats quickly, the body might begin to perspire, and “butterflies” in the stomach soon follow. However, a little bit of anxiety can actually help people stay alert and focused.
Having fears or anxieties about certain things can also be helpful because it makes kids behave in a safe way. For example: a child with a fear of fire would avoid playing with matches.
The nature of anxieties and fears change as children grow and develop:
· Babies experience stranger anxiety, clinging to parents when confronted by people they don’t recognize.
· Toddlers around 10 to 18 months experience separation anxiety, becoming emotionally distressed when one or both parents leave.
· Children ages 4 through 6 have anxiety about things that are not based in reality such as fears of monsters and ghosts.
· Children ages 7 through 12 often have fears that reflect real circulstances that may happen to them, such as bodily injury and natural disaster.
As a child grows, one fear may disappear or replace another. For example: a child who could not sleep with the light off at age 5 may enjoy a ghost story at a slumber party years later. And some fears may extend only to one particular kind of stimulus. In other words, a child may want to pet a lion at the zoo but would not dream of going near the neighbor’s dog.
Some signs that a child may be anxious about something may include:
· becoming clingy, impulsive, or distracted
· nervous movements, such as temporary twitches
· problems getting to sleep and/or staying asleep longer than usual
· sweaty hands
· accelerated heart rate and breathing
Apart from these signs, parents can usually tell when their child is feeling excessively uneasy about something. Lending a sympathetic ear is always helpful, and sometimes just talking about the fear can help the child move beyond it.