21 Sep 2018
WHAT IS ANXIETY AND WHAT ARE THE COMMON CAUSES IN CHILDREN?
21 Sep 2018
By: Alicia Gillett, MSW, RSW
Anxiety is something that everyone experiences from time to time. It is our body’s response to real or perceived danger and there are common internal and external experiences of anxiety in both children and adults. Internally, there are thoughts, bodily sensations and emotions and externally, kids may show behaviours such as avoidance, tantrums and attempts to control. Anxiety can be helpful in that it is what allows us to protect our ourselves in the face of real danger (i.e. a fast car coming down the street). Anxiety can however start to set off false alarms when there is no danger and in children this can be overwhelming and difficult to cope with.
As parents, it is helpful to understand some of the common causes for anxiety in children. This can help you to better understand what factors might have contributed to the worry/anxiety that your child is experiencing and give you ideas for what might be helpful.
All children experience different fears and worries as part of their normal development, which typically subside as they age i.e. fears of the dark/monsters, separation from parents, worries about being accepted socially, academic/extra-curricular performance, family and mortality. In some cases, these developmental worries do not subside and can become cause for concern.
Children may also experience anxiety in response to normal life and family changes i.e. growing family, moving, new school, extended family member death. Other children may be born with a more anxious temperament and may seem to be anxious right from the start. If a child has a parent who has struggled with anxiety, this can create a biological predisposition for anxiety in the child. In this case, the child may or may not experience intrusive anxiety themselves.
Some children go through traumatic situations which can cause anxiety to increase i.e. high conflict separation and divorce, illness or injury of child or immediate family member, serious accident, witnessing domestic violence, etc.
Another important contributing factor can be how parents cope and manage their own day to day worries and anxiety and how this can show up in their parenting. At times, a parent who is struggling with their own anxiety, can inadvertently parent in ways that make the world seem like a scary and unpredictable place.
As you can see, there are some sources of anxiety that are outside of a parents control, but there are also factors that are more within your control as a parent. This knowledge gives you the opportunity to help prevent anxiety in your child from escalating and gives you the ability to choose how to support your child as they go through different stages of development, life changes and unexpected events.
Stay tuned for future blog posts on what parents can shift in their day to day parenting that can help to reduce children’s anxiety, as well as specific strategies that parents can work on with kids so that they have tools for coping with anxiety.
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