Anxious boy sitting on shipping container

Anxiety is a normal emotion that is essential for survival. Specialists in child development have noticed that certain fears are more common at certain ages and stages of life. Most parents are familiar with stranger anxiety, a common response in infants and toddlers when meeting new people.

In addition, it is normal for some young children to be afraid of the dark or starting a new school/club, and for older children and teens to experience some performance anxiety in front of peers. However, for some youth it is as if they never grow out of the stage, and/or they become more rather than less afraid as they mature. As a result, this ongoing and excessive fear can begin to cause considerable distress or interference in everyday life. It can prevent them from engaging in age-appropriate activities or meeting expected developmental milestones. It is this combination of excessive anxiety and disruption in life that helps us understand that anxiety is no longer normal and has become a problem.

Common examples of excessive anxiety and distress include:

  • Complaints of an upset stomach or other physical woes
  • Constant reassurance seeking
  • Crying before going to school, and often more difficulty returning to school after weekend breaks or school holidays
  • Crying and tantrums when the child is worried
  • Lashing out or screaming
  • Trouble going to sleep or staying asleep

Common examples of interference and disruption include:

  • Academic failure
  • Keeping isolated or failure to join in and make friends
  • Refusal to go on school field trips
  • Resisting participating in new activities or trying new things
  • School refusal

Helpful Hint: As a parent, remember that you are the most important person in your child’s life. Although it can be frustrating for the entire family to deal with an anxious child, your child needs a loving but encouraging parent to help support her through the process of learning to cope and conquer her anxiety. See “Healthy Parent,” “Healthy Child,” and “Happy Home” for important ways in which you can begin to help your anxious child or teen.