The Anxious Coping Style
Children can grow out of fears as they mature, and are generally resilient. How do you know when your child's reactions are the beginning of an anxiety disorder, especially when you consider that anxiety in children is expected and normal at specific times in development? From around eight months old through the preschool years, it is normal for your child to show intense feelings if separated from his parents, called separation anxiety. At two years old, your child may be scared of the dark, loud noises, animals, changes in the house, or strangers. At age five you can add “bad people” and fear of bodily harm to the above list. By age six it is common for children to still be afraid of the dark and have separation issues, as well as fear of thunder and lightning, supernatural beings, staying alone, or getting hurt. Kids ages seven through twelve often have fears that are more reality-based, like getting hurt because they are now more aware of the world around them, or of some kind of disaster happening.
Many children can be described as intensely oversensitive, or “high maintenance,” which can be a normal expression of your child's developing personality too. The deciding factors then, as you look at your child, lie in the frequency and intensity of the fears, and how much the fear and worry interferes with life.
What Are You Looking For?
Here are some things to consider as you assess your child's level of anxiety in the home, school, or daycare setting, transitioning, or when socializing. It is important to note your child will need to have multiple symptoms over a length of time. This will be discussed in detail in Chapter 6. For now, ask yourself if your child shows:
Shyness or nervousness when interacting with others
Inability to let go of worry
Avoidance of new or challenging situations
Trouble falling or staying asleep
Do you spend excessive time rearranging activities or reassuring your child? Do you fear the next outing or change in routine?
If so, make a chart of weekly activities and transitions and rate your child's level of distress over a month's time. This will help you see more clearly where the issues lie and what you need to address.
Doctors suggest the best time to watch for signs of an anxiety disorder is when your child is between the ages of six and eight. During this time you will notice changes that are important. He should grow less afraid of the dark and imaginary creatures, and instead become more anxious about school performance and social relationships. The ability he has during this time to grow through the unknowns of school responsibility and structure can be very telling. Also, how he chooses to handle tests, friendships, and being on a team are clues as well. An excessive amount of anxiety in children this age may be a warning sign for the development of anxiety disorders later in life.
Understanding the nature of anxiety and how your child experiences it will help you sympathize with your child's struggles. Check out the Web site
Another litmus test of problematic anxiety in your child is when you reassure her, but she still cannot stop the worry in her head. What often results is that her distressed thoughts, feelings, and behaviors saturate her life and the functioning of the family as a whole. You can use the previous list to identify patterns of anxiety early so that her worry molehills do not turn into big anxiety mountains.