If you are reading this article, that probably means that one of the kids you love struggles with anxiety and worry. The numbers show that anxiety is one of the top mental disorder diagnoses in children in the US and the CDC reports that the number of children dealing with anxiety has increased from 5.5% in 2007 to 7.1% in 2019. We know that if you have a kid who is struggling with anxiety, these numbers are much less important to you than your “one”. However, we share these statistics because we want you to know that you’re not alone in this and that your child is not the only one struggling.
Anxiety can be looked at as a spectrum. So a thought might start out as a fear, progress to a worry, and potentially turn into anxiety.
We all have certain levels of fears, worries, and anxiety. That’s ok and can even be healthy, it’s good for us to be fearful of walking in front of a moving vehicle—that keeps us alive. Along with that idea, there are certain fears that we consider “developmental”, which means that we expect kids to struggle with them at different ages.
For example, we expect an infant to fear separation from their parents. Elementary kids are becoming more aware of the world around them, so we expect that they are going to be scared of things like storms or fire drills. But, because these are developmental fears, we also expect them to develop and grow out of them. When it comes to anxiety, we’re not so much concerned about the specifics of WHAT kids are fearing, we’re more concerned with HOW those fears are effecting their life.
Worries are broader than fears, worries have more to do with concepts or ideas, while fears are typically specific.
So, we worry about something bad happening, whereas we fear a snake popping up on a hike. Worries also tend to be focused on the future, which means kids can easily get stuck in worry, because until it comes to fruition, they can keep worrying about it. We want to give them techniques to recognize and discredit worry. If we can help them tackle worries, then we can stop anxiety before it even starts.
But sometimes, worries turn into anxiety. So if fears are about specific things, and worries have a broader focus, then anxiety takes that lens and makes it even broader.
Anxiety is a state of being. While fears and worries can be seen in specific situations, anxiety becomes a thread that runs through a kid’s interactions, experiences, and everyday life in general.
In her book, Raising Worry-Free Girls, Sissy Goff defines anxiety as “…a state of perpetual worry and constant pressure.”
Anxiety can take many different forms, each type has a list of symptoms and a time frame for which those symptoms must be present for an official diagnosis, typically six months. Labels, diagnosis, and treatment plans can be so helpful, but we also don’t want to prematurely label a child with a diagnosis that they feel the need to live out. No matter what your child’s life or personality looks like, it will involve worries and fears of some sort.
Regardless of how your child is acting out of their fears or worries, we want to help you get them to the root of those so they can experience freedom.
By Maggie Bertram