Sometimes parents may be afraid to let their child or teenager struggle with new tasks, not wanting the child to make mistakes. However, mistakes promote learning and mastery in the child’s world. Some parents worry that “Situation X” is too important for the child to fail. This is the Parental Overprotection Trap.
A child’s temperament may set the stage for anxiety, especially if your child is slow to warm up to people, shy, clingy, or inhibited. Preschool-age children may develop fears about imaginary things, pets or situations (like going to the doctor). Usually children grow out of these fears. Grade school children may develop worries about their health or a parent’s health, or scrutiny by teachers or peers. They may ask a lot of “what if” questions and may not be reassured by your answers. Usually children learn through experience that these worries are not serious. Adolescents may be anxious about their social adequacy, worry about rejection, public performance or evaluation (like tests). These concerns are resolved as your child gains confidence in social circles and experiences small successes in school and at home. Your confidence in your child is essential for your child to develop a “can do” attitude.
What keeps anxiety alive is avoidance. When your child avoids the thing she fears or worries about, the anxiety is never put to rest. When children face their fears, they learn through experience and feedback. Children frequently underestimate their ability to deal with problems. Experience teaches them that they can handle new experiences in life.
What can you do to help your child who seems anxious? Teach and model good stress management and self-soothing skills, such as outside play, social activities, reading, listening to music, art and sports. Parents can model flexibility and positive problem-solving as well. And make sure your child practices healthy behaviors such as good sleep and a diet low in sugar and fat. Teach your children, “You can handle it,” because they can!
– Julia Hosea is a pediatric therapist at Montrose Pediatric Associates.