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Parenting Tips #5: Anxiety in children

April 3, 2018 -- The last in a continuing series of tip sheets for parents, provided by Grades 4-6 math teacher Judith Walsh at Driver Middle School:

Anxiety: What is it?

photo of worried-looking child sitting on a swing
  • Fear of something that will or might happen
  • Overwhelming dread
  • Physically unpleasant
  • Strong desire for escape or avoidance
  • Helpful in small doses
  • Partially based on genetics, so it can be inherited
  • Sometimes noticeable when very young
    • Separation anxiety
    • Trouble sleeping
    • High sensitivity to changes, noise
    • Shyness
  • Upsetting life events can bring out anxiety
    • Family stress
    • Illness
    • Accidents
    • Lack of predictable routines

Anxiety: When does it become a problem?

  • Most kids experience typical anxiety from time to time
    • Toddlers can experience fear of dark, strangers, separation
    • Elementary kids can experience worries about learning, friends, getting hurt, or transitions to new grade levels
    • Teenagers can experience fear of social rejection, grades, future prospects

Problematic Anxiety

  • Is frequent or constant
  • Occurs when there is no real or serious threat
  •  Interferes with daily functioning
  • Causes avoidance of necessary activities
  • Disrupts family or social relationships

Anxiety presents in many ways

  • Fearfulness
  • Strong emotional reactions
  • Obsessive worries
  • Getting stuck
  • Can’t make a decision
  • Needy
  • Overly apologetic
  • Avoidance
  • Irritability/tantrums
  • Hesitant
  • Needing constant reassurance
  • Oppositional
  • Constantly doubtful
  • Negative thinking
  • Resistant

Explaining anxiety to children

  • Anxiety is a feeling, and it also causes us to think and act in certain ways to avoid things that can be harmful
  • Everyone has anxiety from time to time
  • Anxiety can set off false alarms, making us think something is harmful when it isn’t
  • When anxiety bothers us so much that we can’t do what we need to do or can’t enjoy life, we need to do some things to help ourselves
  • We can deal with false alarms by calming our body down, thinking good and true thoughts, and beating anxiety by doing the opposite

Strategies to use when feeling anxious

  • Belly breathing: deep breathing by breathing in by pushing out belly 
  • Muscle relaxation: tighten and release muscles
  • Relaxing Imagery: Picture a happy place 
  • Focusing attention for relaxation: Focus all your attention on an object 
  • Questioning anxiety: Test if the worry can really happen 
  • Self Talk: Tell ourselves things that will make us feel better 
  • Separate from anxiety: Give anxiety a nickname. My anxiety is not me.
  • Incentives and rewards: Should be reasonable and fit with child’s interests 
  • Tracking accomplishments: Chart successes and what worked well 
  • Reminders: Objects, pictures or code words to take mind off of anxiety
Adapted from PowerPoint Presentation, “Anxiety and Kids,” by Dr. Aaron Gleason, West Hill High School, January 24, 2018.


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