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Pediatric Anxiety: When worries get too big

April 24, 2017

Pediatric Anxiety

Do you remember what it was like to be changing and growing every single day? To be constantly having to adjust to a new body, new expectations, new ways of thinking?

Our children are constantly changing, constantly growing and constantly working to make sense of their lives to help them feel safe and secure in the ever-changing landscape of childhood. Even if we provide our kids with the most stable and routine environment, things still always and inevitably change, both inside and outside of them. We want this for them! We want them to grow. But for some children, such constant changes can create a whole lot of fear and worry. Add to this the overwhelming complexity and speed of modern life and it’s not hard to see how anxiety has grown to be one of the major mental health issues facing children, with 1 in 8 children in the US having some type of anxiety disorder.1

When a child’s fear and worries are so excessive and feel so out of control that they start to negatively affect his or her day-to-day living, it may be possible that the child is experiencing pediatric anxiety. The good news is that there are lots of things we can do to help this child!

Just as there are many types of anxiety that children might be experiencing (separation anxiety, OCD, perfectionism, social phobias, or generalized anxiety to name a few) there are so many strategies both parents and professionals can teach children to help them overcome their ‘stinkin thinkin’, thinking that is not helpful, but only makes life harder for them.

Occupational Therapy (OT) can be thought of as the therapy of taking action! And what better way to overcome or change thinking than by taking a different action to support a different way of thinking. There are many ways we can talk to our children about their worries and fears, but by teaching them concrete strategies to use when worries and fears are trying to control them, we empower our children to become change agents in their own lives and to feel how powerful they really are when it comes to their thoughts. These tools and strategies can then be used to cultivate a lifelong practice of combatting ‘stinkin thinkin’ and of living a life free from oppressive or obsessive thoughts and fears.

Some tools we teach at Little Hands include:

  • Self-regulation strategies to calm the body and mind
  • Behavioral strategies that break down worries and fears into more manageable parts and provide positive reinforcement for new behaviors and new thinking.
  • Concrete practices that challenge unhelpful worries and beliefs and replace them with positive actions, such as creating a Let Go Box.

If you feel that your child’s worries and fears may be negatively affecting his or her life, there is help and there is hope. For more information on pediatric anxiety check out these helpful books and websites:

From Worrier to Warrior: A Guide to Conquering Your Fears.

What to do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety

Worry Wise Kids

Child Anxiety

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America

AnxietyBC

Notes: 1 Anxiety and Depression Association of America: https://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics