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Children and Anxiety – Signs and How to Help

Anxiety–or what I call “toxic worry”–is rampant among children these days.  Ask any school teacher and she or he will tell you that kids are worrying far more than they did just a decade ago.  Not necessarily rising to the level of a diagnosable anxiety disorder, like obsessive compulsive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder, toxic worry nonetheless is really bad for a child’s health, school performance, and sense of well being and security in the world. 

These kids really do need help.  Aside from obvious signs, such as a child sharing many worries with others, or complaining of various somatic complaints or missing school due to minor illnesses, here are some less obvious signs that your child–or any child–may be suffering from toxic worry.

       1. The child just “isn’t himself” or “herself”.  Nothing specific, but the sparkle has left the eyes, and the usual buoyancy has sagged.  The once-happy child has been replaced not by an obviously unhappy child, but a child who is not the formerly overtly happy child.

       2. The child is not sleeping soundly, and wakes up tired.

       3.  The child is unusually clingy, not wanting to be left alone when normally he or she is fine alone, and has trouble going to bed without being tucked in or read to.

       4.  The child asks many questions about the state of the world, the health of parents and relatives, the health of the family pet, and the state of parents’ marriage (when normally the child does not ask these questions).

       5.  You notice little cuts, bruises, and other marks that could be the result of the child picking at his or her skin, or you notice fingernails bitten down to the quick.

       6.  The stories the child writes for English class at school reflect a dark or apprehensive tone or describe impending doom or bad times.

       7.  In repose the child looks worried or apprehensive.  When asked what he or she is thinking, the reply is, “Oh, not much.”

       8.  The child develops various superstitions, not to the level of OCD where the superstitions have to be obeyed, but just little new habits, like wanting to triple check that the doors are locked at night or that the toothbrush is thoroughly rinsed out.

       9.  The child spends inordinate time in escapist activities, like on-line games, fantasy literature, or science fiction movies.

       10.  The child does not volunteer for new activities, new trips, new adventures, or even to try a new restaurant, wanting instead familiar people, places, and routines.

What a parent, teacher, or other caring adult can do is follow these three steps, which are my carry-it-with-you-everywhere first-aid kit for toxic worry:

        1.  NEVER WORRY ALONE.  This motto should be emblazoned on every person’s brain, regardless of ago.  Connecting with a trusted other is BY FAR the best immediate remedy for toxic worry.

         2.  Get the facts.  Toxic worry is usually rooted in lack of information, wrong information, or both.  Do whatever you need to do to get the actual facts.

         3.  Based on those facts, and with the person you turned to to worry with, MAKE A PLAN.  When you have a plan you feel more in control and less vulnerable.  Toxic worry derives from feeling low on control and high on vulnerability, so when you reduce feelings of vulnerability and increase feelings of control, you reduce toxic worry.  Making a plan does this. If the plan does not work, you revise the plan.  That’s what life is all about, revising plans that didn’t totally work.

Resources:

Learn how the Hallowell Centers Can Help You.

When You Worry About The Child You Love

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