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Is My Child Too Anxious?

It’s one thing if your two-year-old runs to you crying when the clown at your niece’s birthday pops a big balloon, startling all the young ones at the party. It’s another thing when your ten-year-old refuses to go to the family party because there will be a clown there. And piano recitals can be scary for any young player. But is a panic attack a normal result of stage fright?

It’s hard to tell sometimes if a child is experiencing normal levels of fear about things like friends, school, or in new situations like birthday parties, going to camp, or playing an instrument in an upcoming recital.

How can you tell if your child’s anxiety has gone beyond normal and has become pervasive and intense enough in their life that you need to seek help for them?

I am asked this question frequently in my work with families. Anxiety is tricky because some feelings in this realm of emotions are absolutely healthy, even desirable. We want our children to consider their physical safety when walking home from school. We want them to understand the impact of certain choices, like the outcome of shrugging off homework for weeks on end. The ability to connect cause and effect and remembering to heed the check in our gut are often labeled, and rightly so, as a small amount of anxiety.

Here are some of the questions I ask when discussing a child or teen's anxiety with their parent:

  1. Does your child worry excessively about a number of events or activities?

  2. When encountering the feared object or situation, does your child react by freezing, clinging, or having a tantrum? Or if a teenager, stomping away or retreating to their room?

  3. Does your child worry excessively about her competence and quality of performance? If your child is older, does your child spend excessive amounts of time comparing herself/himself to others and deciding he/she is not as good as others?

  4. Has your child experienced a decline in classroom performance, refused to go to school, or avoided age-appropriate social situations?

  5. Does your child experience a great number of nightmares, headaches, or stomachaches? As an older child, does he/she seem to be suffering from lack of sleep and tend to fall asleep during the day but not be able to sleep at night?

Similar questions and more can be found at (Anxiety and Depression Association of America). Scroll down and you will see the screening for children. It is called SCARED. There’s a handy questionnaire you can download and print out. If you do decide to seek help for your child, filling it out and bringing it with you to your first appointment could be a beneficial tool for you to use with your child’s therapist. The ADAA also has tools to screen for phobias, stress or trauma related issues, and for social anxiety. If your child is a teenager, there are other screening tools at this site, or you or your teen can take the quiz at created by an organization called AnxietyBC.

Remember. There is no minimum number of “Yes’s” required for you to make a decision to seek help for your child. Any one “Yes” may be strong enough to warrant getting help. But filling out and thinking about the questions included in questionnaires such as these can help you decide whether or not your child could use the extra support of a therapist to overcome his/her anxiety or fears. And if your child is a teenager, showing you their results might help them talk with you about their anxiety, so you can decide together whether or not to seek treatment for them.

Sometimes, just knowing a parent cares and wants to help, can help a child open up and begin that journey toward a less anxious life.

- Autumn Starks, LCSW (about)

Founder and Psychotherapist, Starks Therapy Group

DISCLAIMER: The sole purpose of this post is to keep individuals informed of Starks Therapy Group's events, provide useful information related to mental health issues, and provide thoughtful content related to self care and mental health. It is not intended to diagnose or treat mental illness. This post is not monitored daily and is used for information sharing only. If you wish to communicate directly with someone at Starks Therapy Group, please call 708-689-3055. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911.

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