Children do not have to pay bills, clean the house, cook dinner, or run errands, so what can they possibly worry about? But just like adults, kids experience their share of demands that if frustrations and disappointment begin to build, they can become stressed, overwhelmed, and worry.
Worrying is a natural emotion that adults and children will experience from time to time. A child’s personality and temperament will contribute to how much and how often a child worries. Some babies are more relaxed while others are anxious, and some babies are criers, and some are not.
Kids’ worries can range from the boogeyman under the bed to natural disasters. Their worry can come randomly, or it can be triggered by everyday events they experience. From the time a baby is born and begins to grow, their awareness of the world will increase, and not being able to foresee when bad things may happen can all contribute to their worry levels.
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WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO WORRY?
WHAT DO CHILDREN WORRY ABOUT?
Birth to six months:
During this stage, your baby begins to worry about falling and may show signs of fear at loud unexpected noises. Worry may also arise when there is no physical, visual, or auditory contact with the parent. When your baby loses contact (meaning that you have stepped away), they start to cry because they are worried that you will not return. This is because your child does not understand that objects are permanent in time and space. The part of the brain that is responsible for object permanence has not developed as yet.
Seven to twelve months:
During this stage, your child can still worry and become alarmed by loud noises if they are unexpected. You will see them jump and possibly start to cry. Separation Anxiety also develops during this stage because your child can better understand that objects (people/things) still exist if they are not visible at the moment. They realize that you can leave and reappear. They also recognize that they have some influence over you as well. Whenever they cry, they notice that someone will pick them up. But when you leave and your child sees that you are not coming back immediately, they become alarmed and start to worry (expressed as crying) about when you will return and if they will get hurt in your absence. Separation Anxiety can continue until the age of 6 for some children.
Two to four years old:
At this stage, children start to develop a fear for animals, the dark, and people in costume (clowns, for example). Due to their lack of understanding of these concepts, worry starts to creep in. Your child may worry about being hurt by a dog (knocking them over, or eating them). At night you may experience challenges in getting them into bed because they are worried about “monsters coming to get them” while they sleep.
Your child will feel comfortable and safe when there is structure and routine because they can anticipate when certain things are going to occur (nap time, bedtime, snack time, mommy/daddy and me time). Drastic changes without warning (haircut, change in the bedroom, introducing a new vegetable) can create stress and worry because they no longer feel comfortable.
Five to eight years old:
As the brain continues to develop, your child begins to have a better understanding of complex concepts. Remember, when you were able to say, “I will make the bad people go away” or “I will make the boo-boo disappear.” This is not the case anymore. During this stage, your child may voice that he/she is worried about the following:
- Being physically hurt or getting sick – this is because your child is more aware of the world around them, and they can remember things. They may remember when their friend fell off the swing or when they had to go to the ER. That’s pretty scary!
- Bad dreams – Your child is still figuring out what is real and what isn’t. They are all about unicorns, paw patrol, and fairy dust, but when a bad dream occurs, they worry that this may be a reality. This is because the part of the brain responsible for distinguishing reality from fantasy has not fully developed.
- Making their teacher upset – school is a new experience, and your child does not know what to expect and what the rules are when they start. As a result, they may worry about messing up and making their teacher upset.
- Being left alone – if your child is left alone with no one else around, they will be to worry about if something has happened to you and what will happen to them. I remember as a child (age 6) in the Caribbean, my mother left me alone to go pick up my older brother from school (father was still at work), which was literally across the street! I became engulfed with so much worry that I cried my eyes out and stayed by the door while looking out the window until she returns. At that time, we didn’t have cellphones. What were 5 minutes for her, felt like a lifetime for me!
Nine to twelve years old:
Ahh, the “tweens”! At this point, your child is more aware of the world around them – the news, the weather, sad/exciting stories, & historical events. They don’t have a strong context in understanding complex concepts, so if a storm is coming, they are thinking that the storm is only going to happen in their backyard!
Your child may begin to express worries about school performance, such as how well they do on exams or how well they participate in class. You may also notice concern about their physical appearance, death, the health of a loved one, or potential harm. It seems so dreary! But this is because their brains are developing, and they are starting to understand more intricate things. Your child is learning to compare themselves to others, and they are learning about peer relationships as they become more social. Your child can also worry about the following:
- Making mistakes in class
- Being laughed at
- Being bullied
- The environments
- Making friends
This is the period for drastic developmental stages. Teenagers’ brain works differently than adults when they problem solve and make decisions. Their actions are guided through emotions and impulses and less by thought and logic. Worry and confusion arise because your teen is trying to figure out who they are and where they belong in society. They are searching for their identity, and may begin to worry and feel confused about the following:
- Fitting in
- Their popularity
- Their appearance
- Personal & romantic friendships
- School performance
- Career path
- What the future holds for them
STRATEGIES TO HELP CHILDREN OVERCOME WORRY
- Always have open communication
Encourage open communication at all times with your child. Talk to your child about changes that will happen in their environment (going for a haircut or making a change in their routine) and changes they can expect to go through.
Make yourself available and take an interest in what is going in their lives (at home, in school, and when they spend time with their friends). When you do this, your child will be comfortable expressing what is going on in their minds.
Don’t wait for them to come to you all the time; take time to ask how they are doing and how they are feeling. When your child is telling you stories, be sure to ask them their thoughts and feelings.
- Show empathy, understanding, and ask questions
Acknowledge the stress that your child/teen is going through, don’t just disregard it as unimportant. Ask your child questions about what is worrying them. Remember that they are going through developmental changes and are learning about the world around them. Depending on their age, they may not know what it means to worry, and may not be able to articulate what they are thinking/feeling entirely. When you are interested in your child’s concerns/worry, you are showing them that they are important to you, and it helps them to feel calm, supported, and understood.
- Offer reassurance
Often when your child is worried, what they need most is reassurance and comfort in knowing that you are there for them and that you love them. It can be anything from a hug, a kiss, words of encouragement, or quality time together.
- Don’t always be a fixer to solutions, offer guidance
Most of the time, when you see your child having a problem, your first instinct is to jump in and solve it. It may be good in some instances, depending on the situation. But one way to help reduce concerns and worry in your child is to help them learn and cope with challenging situations when they arise. When your child comes to you with a problem, work together to come up with a solution. In the long run, this will help your child tackle problems on their own as they continue to grow and develop.
- Be a positive role model
This pretty much goes without saying. But as a reminder, children are always watching you, and they learn through what they see. It is where the most powerful lessons are learned. How you respond to stress, worry, and frustration will teach your child how to deal with daily life challenges.
If your child sees that you are angry, yelling, screaming about being stuck in traffic, they will learn that this is an appropriate response to stress. Of course, sometimes life challenges can knock us off our feet, and our emotions will get the best of us. What’s important to remember here is that your child is learning as they watch you.
- Take time out to talk about the positives
Talk with your child about their day, what fun things they enjoy, and what makes them happy. Encourage them to talk about their positive experiences, such as making new friends, passing a test, or learning a new word. Focus on their strengths and reinforce them.
Life gets busy, but take time out to do fun activities together and encourage their creativity, this will help diminish worry and stress and help your child thrive.
- Don’t be afraid to seek help
There are fine lines between worry, fear, and anxiety. Your child or teen, at some point, will experience these emotions. But if you notice that your child is worrying excessively to the point where it is interfering with their normal activities, and it is persisting for more than three months, do not hesitate to reach out to your child’s doctor for help.
It does not mean that something is wrong; you are just being proactive regarding your child’s development and mental health. In today’s society, children have so many demands to make, that worry and stress are becoming more prevalent. Therefore, it is essential to get help so that your child can have additional tools to help them regulate their emotions as they grow