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Beating The Worry Bug

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As children grow, the things that they scare them change, but most children regardless of their age, have rational fears that can be addressed. Just think about yourself – there are things that you still fear even though you are an adult. Of course, there is a difference between rational and irrational fears. So, what fears should you expect from diverse age groups?

Dr. Susan Miller, a professor emeritus of early childhood education at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania outlines what to expect at different ages:

Birth to Two Years

Loud Noises: Sirens, alarms, construction or even other children suddenly screaming can startle babies as young as a few weeks old.

Stranger Anxiety: At around 6 months, infants begin to be wary of people who are not part of their daily surroundings, often crying if they hold them.

Separation Anxiety: At about 18 months, toddlers become highly sensitive to the comings and goings of important people in their lives. They tend to fear that those that are close to them will leave.

What you can do:

Talk about fears. Even if they cannot understand the words you are saying, babies can read your tone and body language and understand that even if the other person is unfamiliar, you trust them and therefore they should too.

Play separation games. Games like peek-a-boo let your child know that even if you disappear, you are going to come back, helping to ease separation anxiety.

Three to Four Years

Dark. When children’s imaginations begin to develop, bedtime can be a scary time. They imagine horrible monsters coming out of the shadows in their room, prompting them to fear the dark at night.

Mortality. If a pet or grandparent passes away, children at this stage can be scared that they too will die.

What you can do:

Offer comfort and encourage discussion. Give hugs and let your child talk about what is scaring him. Don’t dismiss his fears as not being “real.”

Prepare your child for frightening things. Read books about what happens in the dark or about going to the dentist. This will help your child create a happy ending to his imagined fears.

Five to Six Years

Failure. At this age, children stop being as self-focused and start to recognize their peers’ opinions. Because of this, they become more fearful of looking foolish if they make a mistake. Therefore, at this age, children often are scared of taking chances.

What you can do:

Be a role model. Show your child how you take risks and fail. Showing him that the world does not end when we make mistakes is a great way for him to recognize that he will be okay too.

Encourage practice. Give examples of how your child practiced in order to get where he is right now. For instance, he did not always walk. First, he took one step, fell down, and then got back up. Everything takes practice in order to do well.

Above, I outlined some common fears and anxieties that fall within the range of normal behavior. But, what about those anxieties that get out of control? Here are some forms of anxiety disorders that can get in the way of normal functioning as your children grow and develop.

Generalized anxiety can sometimes manifest itself in children during the intermediate ages of 9 and 12. A child who worries excessively and obsessively about school performance, the state of the world, his health, and the health of his family members could be exhibiting signs of generalized anxiety disorder. Pay attention to whether his anxiety is controlling him or whether he is controlling his anxiety.

Social Phobia is an anxiety disorder that often emerges when children enter their teenage years. Often, children with social phobias will withdraw from social situations and refuse to participate in extracurricular activities. Sometimes, they will refuse to go to school and will only choose to speak to their parents or siblings. They may get very real headaches, stomachaches, or diarrhea on school days — but the pain comes from their brains, not their bowels.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD involves anxiety and stress about traumatic events in one’s past. This disorder frequently occurs after violent personal assaults, such as mugging, domestic violence, terrorism, natural disasters, or accidents. Children who experienced an extremely disturbing event might subsequently develop generalized anxiety. PTSD is often triggered by sounds, smells, or sights that remind the sufferer of the trauma.

While PTSD might require efforts beyond the scope of a parent, for general anxiety and social phobia, there are some ways that parents can help ease the symptoms. Of course, these are no replacement for help by professionals who are well-versed in helping children with anxiety.

Tamar E. Chansky, a psychotherapist, wrote a practical guide, “Freeing Your Child From Anxiety,” and explained her a “master plan” for helping children gain control over their anxiety:

Empathize with your child. Don’t dismiss your child’s concerns. They are very real to her. Instead, acknowledge those concerns and the effects they might have.

Name it. Let your child know that these worries come from “worry brain” and cannot be trusted. Instead of focusing on the particular worry, your child can come to understand that it is the anxiety itself that is causing the issues.

Rewire and resist. Talk out the problem with your daughter and find out what she is really worried about. Through this process, she might be able to recognize that her fears cannot come true (or at least are very unlikely). Assist her in telling her “worry brain” to be quiet!

Relaxation breathing. Quieting her body may allow her to quiet her brain. Teach her relaxation techniques that can help her keep her body calm.

Praise effort. Rewiring and refocusing is hard work – for anyone – especially a child who cannot completely control other areas of her life. Therefore, let her know how great she is doing in attempting to get through a tough situation.

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About the Author: An acclaimed educator and education consultant, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation,, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@verizon.net. Visit her on the web at rifkaschonfeldsos.com.


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