How do I help my child understand anxiety?

By Senior Psychologist Kim McGregor

Our children are first and foremost individuals who are developing in their bodies and brains, and they will experience normal fears which will change from infancy to adolescence. These typically developing fear stages differ from clinical anxiety in their severity, not in their quality.

Some examples of typical development in the context of fears include:

Infancy – loud noises, strangers, separation

Preschool – animals, the dark, monsters

Primary age – social, judgement from others, school achievement

Adolescence – social, judgement from others, relationship issues

Talking to your child about anxiety can include discussing that it is a normal emotion needed to survive, commonly expressed as fear or worry, and that we all go through typical fears. 

Everybody experiences anxiety differently – it is a subjective sense of worry, fear or distress and includes physical body sensations, thoughts, emotions of nervousness or fear and actions/behaviour. It is common (1 out of 10 kids) and is influenced by genetics, environments/modelling and life experiences.

Healthy anxiety is adaptive, keeps us safe, helps us to perform better and increases motivation while unhealthy anxiety occurs too easily too often, interferes with daily functioning, and may affect life enjoyment. 

If your child seems to be experiencing anxiety that is impacting on their daily functioning, it might be heading into ‘unhealthy anxiety’ territory. Try opening up a conversation with them about it. This will help them to realise that anxiety is normal (even helpful at times!) and there are things we can do about it when it all becomes too much.

As for what to do about it…..stay tuned for part two, where I will give you some tips and resources to help you and your child manage their anxiety more effectively!

Kim McGregor is a registered Psychologist with a Master’s degree in Educational & Developmental Psychology. She has worked extensively with infants, children and their families in not for profit, early childhood, specialised school and government multidisciplinary settings providing assessment, diagnosis and treatment for their developmental, cognitive, social, emotional and learning needs.

While Kim enjoys working with and celebrating all children as they grow and develop, her experience and interests include understanding the specific strengths, abilities and support needs of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, developmental delay, intellectual disability and learning disabilities to reach their full potential through comprehensive assessment.  

Her goal is to always work from a person centred and family focused partnership with parents providing clear communication, empathy and support throughout the journey of understanding and helping their child.  She incorporates evidence based therapies to support skill development, having trained in CBT programs such as The Cool Kids Anxiety program (Cool Kids) and the Secret Agent Society program (SAS) and in Positive Behaviour Support (PBS).

While Kim has spent most of her life in Sydney, she now enjoys all that Melbourne has to offer with her family and pets. 

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