Helping your child overcome fears and anxieties
A looming figure, a monster hiding under the bed, the worrying of not fitting in. These are just a few common fears that many children may suffer from at any point during their childhood. Robin Welsh, MD, said anxiety disorders are among the most common childhood psychiatric conditions, and what causes children to have anxiety can be different as they grow, learn and acquire life experiences. She offered tips on how parents can help their children overcome these fears.
What are children typically anxious about?
- Infants and toddlers fear sudden, large figures or objects coming at them. They also can fear strangers and being separated from their parents.
- Young children have not completely figured out what is real and not real, so they’re more likely to be afraid of bumps in the night and supernatural beings – monsters under their bed, ghosts in the closet – or they may fear the dark. In the real world, animals such as spiders, snakes and dogs can become objects of fear as well.
- School aged children often have anxieties centered on school, such as an angry teacher or the anxiety of not fitting in socially with other children. They also can be afraid of real-world calamities (bad weather, natural disasters), as children often react more emotionally to a news story or documentary than an adult might.
What can you do to help your child overcome their fears or anxieties?
- Take your child’s anxiety seriously.
- Do not coerce or force your child into being brave. Getting over a fear can take some time. With infants and toddlers, keeping a predictable routine and creating a strong parent-child bond can help reduce anxieties. With older children, having good communication and positive interactions can help children feel more secure.
- Remember that anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and dangerous situations. It can be beneficial at times by alerting us to things that are harmful, but it becomes pathological when it is present most of the time and causes impairment. This can lead to an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric disorders in children. The prevalence of anxiety disorders in children and adolescents ranges from 4–20%.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and sometimes medications can be helpful for anxiety disorders.
It is important to diagnose and treat abnormal childhood anxieties or anxiety disorders. If you are concerned that your child may have an anxiety disorder, contact their pediatrician.
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