Little Worries: Why Kids Worry and How to Help

worried child

All kids have fears and worries.  It’s a very normal part of child development.  As they grow, children are constantly bombarded with new information.  It’s a lot to process.  While some kids seem to move easily from stage to stage with only a few moments of worry, others will exhibit more symptoms of stress along the way.

Not to worry.  All children are different and they develop at their own pace.  Try to avoid making comparisons and meet your child where she is.  This will help you determine how to help your child through periods of worry.

Not sure if your child is a worrier?  Here are a few signs to look for:

  •  Sleep disturbance 
  • Changes in eating habits 
  • Agitation 
  • Complaints of headaches or stomachaches
  • General irritability
  • Low frustration tolerance (compared to average)

While some kids experience specific phobias (dogs, needles, spiders, heights), many young children worry about issues related to personal safety. 

Common fears and worries in young children include:

  • Transitions 
  • The dark 
  • Nighttime 
  • Being alone 
  • Separation from parents or other primary caregivers 
  • Getting lost 
  • Medical appointments 
  • Monsters and/or ghosts

While it’s often tempting to play into magical thinking for a quick fix for a specific worry, this can cause confusion.  Ghost and monster sprays might work for a few nights, but to provide such a spray is to teach your child that ghosts and monsters are real.  The better bet is to ground worries in reality and help your child develop mastery over the fear or worry.

Develop a feelings vocabulary

Many children struggle to accurately identify their feelings, and this can increase their stress levels.  Consider purchasing a feelings faces chart or simply create one at home.  Practice making faces to match different feelings, then capture your child making those faces.  Paste them to a poster board with the emotion written below.  Refer to the chart often, particularly during times of stress or worry.  When children can identify their emotions they can learn to cope with them.

{ MORE: Color Blindness in Children }

Teach deep breathing

Relaxation breathing is more than simply taking a few deep breaths.  It requires practice and patience, but the end result is a go-to coping strategy that can be used anywhere.  Try blowing up balloons.  Tell your child that you’re going to blow up pretend balloons.  Ask your child to choose a color or design.  Have your child hold her fingers to her mouth as if to blow up a balloon, take a great big breath, and slowly exhale into the balloon.  Repeat.  Send the balloons into the sky and watch them fly away.  Note:  Real balloons are completely frustrating.  Stick to the imagination here.

Play for mastery

Play is so much more than play.  When children are engaged in free play they learn, explore new roles and conquer their fears.  Get out the dress up clothes and manipulative toys and provide plenty of unstructured playtime.  Engage with your child, but be sure to let your child lead the way.  A child who repeatedly plays the role of the doctor is likely to experience fewer worries prior to the next medical appointment. 

{ MORE: Pumping Got You Down? Check Out These Pumping Tips to Power Through }

Increase special time

Life moves fast for little kids.  They learn and grow at a very fast space.  Be sure to slow down, take a break from the busy schedule and factor in ample 1:1 special time.  Children who experience a close bond with their parents are better able to cope with stress and anxiety.  Bottom line:  they need you.  Provide comfort, praise and time to help your little worrier worry just a little bit less.

 Is your child a worrier? What have you found works to help you ease their fears and worries? 

Photo via iStock [Matt Brown]

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Little Worries: Why Kids Worry and How to Help

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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2 comments

  1. Profile photo of Janice Janice says:

    The children need time just like adults do, to let go and get back to there self.

  2. Profile photo of Janice Janice says:

    My daughters house burned down, and they lost everything. My 10 year old granddaughter will not leave her mothers side, she will not stay over at friends houses and will not go to bed until her moms comes into her room, says good night and prays with her, and her sisters. They got the new house and even though she got to be apart of color chooses for her room, and decorations, and furniture, she did not stay in her room. She now sleeps with her younger sisters, and uses her room for toys and to play in. Her mom has allowed what ever she wants to do, on most matters, but she is still clinging. It has been over a year, and she is still stressed and worries. My daughter has to call her when she leaves so she knows when to expect her. If she is late and can not get a hold of her she gets very upset. She cries and gets angry she even gets made if her father takes to long. She will not calm down until she see’s that he is OK. My daughter had to drive her into town to see him, when his cell phone went dead. She has stayed at her great grandma’s house more times then I can remember, but now after the fire, she would not stay there anymore. I stayed at my moms with her and told her that we could stay up all night, if she wanted. She accepted the all night idea and we stayed up as long as we could. She still does not stay with her great grandma, unless she has to, and she gets upset, her great grandmother has to practically promise her the moon before she calms down. My mom lets her stay up and watch movies after the little girls are asleep, and have a treat, while they watch there movie’s

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