Little Worries: Why Kids Worry and How to Help
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
- 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:
- The dark
- 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.
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.
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]