Anxiety, Fears, and Phobias
Everyone, from the youngest child to the oldest adult, experiences anxieties and fears at one time or another. Feeling anxious in a particularly uncomfortable situation never feels very good. However, with kids, such feelings are not only normal, they're also necessary. Dealing with anxieties can prepare young people to handle the unsettling experiences and challenging situations of life.
Many Anxieties and Fears Are Normal
Anxiety is defined as "apprehension without apparent cause." It usually occurs when there's no immediate threat to a person's safety or well being, but the threat feels real.
Anxiety makes someone want to escape the situation — fast. The heart beats quickly, the body might begin to perspire, and "butterflies" in the stomach soon follow. However, a little bit of anxiety can actually help people stay alert and focused.
Having fears or anxieties about certain things can also be helpful because it makes kids behave in a safe way. For example, a kid with a fear of fire would avoid playing with matches.
The nature of anxieties and fears change as kids grow and develop:
- Babies experience stranger anxiety, clinging to parents when confronted by people they don't recognize.
- Toddlers around 10 to 18 months old experience separation anxiety, becoming emotionally distressed when one or both parents leave.
- Kids ages 4 through 6 have anxiety about things that aren't based in reality, such as fears of monsters and ghosts.
- Kids ages 7 through 12 often have fears that reflect real circumstances that may happen to them, such as bodily injury and natural disaster.
As kids grow, one fear may disappear or replace another. For example, a child who couldn't sleep with the light off at age 5 may enjoy a ghost story at a slumber party years later. And some fears may extend only to one particular kind of stimulus. In other words, a child may want to pet a lion at the zoo but wouldn't dream of going near the neighbor's dog.
Signs of Anxiety
Typical childhood fears change with age. They include fear of strangers, heights, darkness, animals, blood, insects, and being left alone. Kids often learn to fear a specific object or situation after having an unpleasant experience, such as a dog bite or an accident.
Separation anxiety is common when young children are starting school, whereas adolescents may experience anxiety related to social acceptance and academic achievement.
If anxious feelings persist, they can take a toll on a child's sense of well being. The anxiety associated with social avoidance can have long-term effects. For example, a child with fear of being rejected can fail to learn important social skills, causing social isolation.
Many adults are tormented by fears that stem from childhood experiences. An adult's fear of public speaking may be the result of embarrassment in front of peers many years before. It's important for parents to recognize and identify the signs and symptoms of kids' anxieties so that fears don't get in the way of everyday life.
Some signs that a child may be anxious about something may include:
- becoming clingy, impulsive, or distracted
- nervous movements, such as temporary twitches
- problems getting to sleep and/or staying asleep longer than usual
- sweaty hands
- accelerated heart rate and breathing
Apart from these signs, parents can usually tell when their child is feeling excessively uneasy about something. Lending a sympathetic ear is always helpful, and sometimes just talking about the fear can help a child move beyond it.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
Add your own comment
Today on Education.com
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- The Five Warning Signs of Asperger's Syndrome
- What Makes a School Effective?
- Child Development Theories
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Test Problems: Seven Reasons Why Standardized Tests Are Not Working
- Bullying in Schools
- A Teacher's Guide to Differentiating Instruction
- Should Your Child Be Held Back a Grade? Know Your Rights