Dealing with childhood anxiety

Our rule-follower, Jase, is also our worrier. When we announced this summer’s vacation would be a cruise, he worried the ship would sink. When we went to a friend’s informal wedding reception, he worried about whether kids his age would be there. I knew our friend’s son would be there but that news didn’t reassure Jase, and he seemed uncomfortable with the gathering as we knew very few people there.

AnxietyIt is events like this or talking about the first day of school or the test he needs to pass to be moved up to the next grade that bring out Jase’s anxiety. He is so worried about what will or could happen or if he will get in trouble for something that his anxiety just builds up.

In the evenings, Jase often talks to my husband when he comes to tuck Jase into bed. It is at these times that Jase becomes worked up about issues almost to the point of hyperventilating.

I broached the topic with our pediatrician in July at Jase’s yearly checkup. Since his anxiety isn’t debilitating, she recommended looking online for tips for dealing with childhood anxiety versus sending him to a therapist or prescribing any type of medication. (A friend who suffers from anxiety has had her daughter on anxiety meds since kindergarten.)

Jase’s anxiety isn’t debilitating – yet. He is often worried about situations but still goes into them. For example, he was worried about meeting a friend’s new stepsisters when he went over to play. I told him that the girls wouldn’t probably be interested in him at all. That didn’t calm him down but once he was there, everything turned out fine. But I hate seeing him work himself up.

So lately, I have spent some time looking online at childhood anxiety.

The symptoms include but are not limited to sadness, feeling lonely, trouble sleeping or concentrating, constant worrying, avoiding social activities, feeling like your mind has gone blank, shortness of breath, pounding heart, stomach ache, headache and diarrhea.

I remember being anxious as a kid. I dreaded the first day of school. My stomach would hurt. I wasn’t then nor am I now great in social situations. I feel shy and awkward. As I have gotten older, it has gotten better.

I see a lot of myself in Jase. I just wish I knew what to tell him to relieve his fears. I don’t often know what to do or say and had hoped the search on the Internet would provide some insight.

Most of the fearful situations they listed for kids – dogs, monsters, death, separation – do not fall in line with the things Jase is anxious about so the tips didn’t always seem to apply. And the tips listed were often logical and nothing I hadn’t already considered.

Here is a synopsis of some of the tips.

  • Recognize the fear is real. Don’t brush it off or belittle the fear.
  • Encourage your child to talk about their fears. If you talk about it, it can become less powerful. (Jase often doesn’t want to talk at all about his fears or concerns.)
  • Don’t cater to fears. Don’t avoid situations that your child is afraid of as this will just reinforce that there is something to fear. (In other words, don’t avoid dogs if your child is afraid of them. Monsters are a whole different thing. Definitely avoid those!)
  • Teach coping strategies. This is where it got tricky to find strategies that fit Jase’s anxiety. They suggest relaxation techniques such as visualization and deep breathing as well as repeating positive statements, such as “I can do this.”

I don’t really know if any of these tips will help Jase. (For additional tips, check out this website.) The other day he came in saying he didn’t want to go to school the next day. It turned out that in science they were doing an experiment that dealt with earthworms. Jase is afraid of them. So we did talk about what he could do such as stand a little farther from the group, offer to be the note taker instead of handling the worms, not staring at the worms and taking deep breaths to relax. He made it through the class so hopefully one of these techniques helped.

If anyone has other suggestions on dealing with childhood anxiety, please feel free to share them in the comment section.