October 18, 2018
By Margaret M. Tripp, PhD
How do you know when to seek treatment for your child? Don’t all children worry about afternoon pickup or going to a new place sometimes? How do you tell if your child is experiencing an age typical worry or something in the anxiety category?
All of us worry from time to time. And children are no exception. As children learn about bad or scary events they reach an age where they can understand that those bad or scary things could happen to them or their family. But these worries should not control their behavior. Once they ask some questions and learn how things work and what measures are in place to make that scary thing less likely to happen, children move on in their thinking. They focus on new things and begin a new set of questions. This ability to hear the explanation and get their head around the fear and then move on to new ideas shields them from spending all of their time worrying about something bad happening.
Sometimes children with anxiety or excessive worry cannot make this shift from their initial worry. Or their initial worry does shift but it shifts into a new even scarier worry. When your child is unable to let go of a worry or concern after a few repeat explanations and does not seem to be moving forward in how they think about and understand the worry, it might have become too big for him or her to handle. When worries get this large we view them as developing into anxiety.
Other signs that a worry trend is becoming large enough to label anxiety can be physical or behavioral. Children experiencing anxiety can appear flustered or become easily panicked. They might be quick to tear up or raise their voice because they are experiencing such intense physical and emotional sensations due to their anxiety. Difficulty falling sleep or attending activities that they previously enjoyed are other indicators of anxiety.
Again, if these signs or changes occur one time or for one week, we don’t make too much of them. However, if your child struggles with these moments often, they don’t have to. We know that identifying worry patterns and triggers and reducing them with strategies and support can strengthen your child’s ability to manage anxiety over time.
If you read this and feel like it describes your child or teen, consider reaching out to someone who treats anxiety. Often with treatment, these symptoms can be managed, and your child can feel equipped to tackle rough moments in the long run.