What Children Worry About According to Their Age & What to Do to Help.

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Posted by: Sue Atkins

We aren’t the only ones who struggle with fear, worry, anxiety & stress – children do, too.

Research suggests that children’s concerns tend to differ & vary according to their age groups, or their stages of development.

As any parent knows, children vary in their personalities, temperament & character – some babies are more relaxed, while others are more anxious; some are criers, some are not, and so on throughout your child’s ages and stages.

Many children and adults fear things outside their experience. Their brains are wired to protect them from snakes, for example, even though the average person rarely encounters a slithery serpent, venomous or not. ?

Some children experience anxiety disorders, often a strong emotional response to an intense experience. But mostly, a child’s fears are a predictable rite of passage.

Your child’s “anxiety landscape” changes over time.

Anxiety is really only an issue or a problem if it interferes with your child’s cognitive, emotional, or social development or their happiness.

Fears of an Infant or Toddler

  • Loud noises or sudden movements
  • Large looming objects
  • Strangers
  • Separation
  • Changes in the house

 

Fears During Preschool Years

  • The dark
  • Noises at night
  • Masks
  • Monsters and ghosts
  • Animals such as dogs

 

Fears During School Years

  • Snakes and spiders
  • Storms and natural disasters
  • Being home alone
  • Fear of a teacher who’s angry

 

Fear of the Unknown

The fear of the unknown is a very natural part of growing up. It’s hardwired into a primitive part of the brain, called the amygdala. The brain also grows fastest from age 0 to 6 than at any time in life, which can explain why children can become anxious during this time.

Children can also become anxious because of the pace at which their brain is developing. During this time, your child is absorbing, and trying to interpret & understand, a vast number of external stimuli e.g. their environment, the people they are learning to interact with & they are experiencing new & different places, people & things. It’s a busy time!

Because a child isn’t fully able to express their thoughts and feelings until about age three they can become anxious and frustrated. It isn’t until around the age of 8 that they’re able to have the vocabulary & language to speak coherently and to express themselves confidently.

Children also take their lead from you so if you are worrier you will be passing your anxiety vibes onto them consciously or unconsciously. So, notice how you speak, act and behave in life to try and minimise passing on those anxiety vibes to your children.

I think it helps to remember that the ability to cope with anxiety and worry doesn’t fully develop until after adolescence.

This may be why a child, or even a teenager, may throw a tantrum, because they may be feeling frustrated, misunderstood, stressed or anxious.

Here Is A List of Worries (and the Why Behind Them!)

Infants and toddlers (0-2 years)

Being separated from parents.

Until around 8 to 10 months, babies believe that what is temporarily gone just vanishes. For example, when you leave a room, your child thinks you’re gone forever! So, they suffer from separation anxiety & feel the fear of separation. This phase soon passes and is perfectly normal.

One simple thing you can do to maintain calm is to establish a predictable routine.

Also, try to minimise the numbers of caretakers in your child’s life at this stage. Strong bonding with your child — through regular touch, eye contact, and talking or singing creates a foundation of trust, helping to protect your child against future anxiety, too.

Loud noises

Your baby’s brain is super sensitive to information (and sensory) overload. A loud noise (or ‘startling’ sensation) will send their delicate brain into high alert.

External ‘Things Out Of Their Control

When your little one begins taking their first steps they start to get the wonderful feeling of independence & being in control. They feel an ever-increasing need for control over their environment so anything that seems outside of their control like a car horn sounding or a loud clap of thunder, or a balloon bursting can seem frightening.

Preschool/Kindergarten (3-5 years)

Fear of the dark/being alone at night

Preschool-aged children have difficulty separating fantasy from reality. Bedtime fears – the dark, monsters under the bed, and sleeping alone – are all common at this age. These are the years when your child’s powers of imagination are exploding, which means that now they can imagine new and scary things to be afraid of. So, if your child associates darkness with something scary, they’re likely to come running into your bedroom at night looking for a cuddle.

People in costume (Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny, Barney Bear)

Children aren’t comfortable with the unfamiliar. A large man in a red costume, bushy white beard, and a weird-looking red hat isn’t going to impress them much. In fact, they’ll probably not like it … at all & feel scared.

Dogs

Resist the temptation either to overprotect or to prompt with, “It’s fine, come on!” Instead, give your child opportunities for direct, safe experiences. Talk to a dog’s owner and ask, “Is your dog friendly? Can we say ‘hello’?” “Or, ask your child, ‘Is the dog’s tail wagging? That’s the sign of a happy dog.'” If you have a friend with a dog, just let your child observe them at a distance until they feel more confident and comfortable.

Fear of the Future

Children as young as 3 or 4 may know that anticipating the future can cause worry.

They understand that negative thoughts can make you feel bad before they understand that positive thoughts can help you feel good, which happens around age 7.

Despite this awareness, young preschoolers lack the ability to redirect their thoughts, which may explain why trying to talk your young child out of their fears is unproductive.

Read books with stories around how other characters handle their fears to ‘Talk & Teach’ your children how to handle their own fears.

School-Aged Children (6-11 Years Old)

Fear of strangers, the dark, being alone, and other things outside of their control pretty much dominate your child’s worries until age 6 or 7.

An explosion of knowledge and experience during the school years introduces children to more real-world dangers: fire drills, burglars, storms, and wars. Realism begins to set in.

Don’t always assume you know the precise source of your child’s fears, however. If your child hates public swimming pools, is it really the water and drowning they’re afraid of or, is it the lifeguard’s piercing loud whistle? The only way to know is to ask.

With younger children, you can draw them out – literally. Get your child to draw two pictures: One is a picture of themselves in the scary situation with a thought “worry bubble” that tells what they’re thinking about themselves. Then get them to draw a second picture of themselves in the same situation, but with a “clever bubble” that has calmer, more realistic thoughts.

A child who’s afraid of their teacher’s anger about forgetting their homework might say, “The teacher will send me to Mrs Morris – the Head if I forget my homework.” But the “clever bubble” might say, “My friend, Rosie, forgot her homework and my teacher only asked her to write a reminder in her homework journal & to show her.”

This technique helps kids make the connection between how they feel when they’re telling themselves these two very different stories & is empowering them to feel more capable and competent.

Children who are afraid of natural disasters might also shift into a different mindset by talking to you about what they’ve learned at school about storms, tornadoes, or earthquakes. This helps them feel more in control a different way of looking at the situation.

Being home alone

While being a little older by comparison, young school children still question their ability to cope in an uncertain world without their Mum, Dad or caregiver. The law in the UK doesn’t specify an age when a child can be left at home alone. But it is an offence to leave your child at home alone if it puts them at risk. Most children under the age of 13 should not be left at home alone. So, reassure your child but offer them incremental ways to feel more capable and competent in life generally – don’t rob them of the opportunities to gain independence

Being rejected

Children can start to experience friendship issues and worry about being left out, rejected or criticised. Deeply entrenched in our subconscious is the knowledge that we’re, by nature, social animals. Rejection is rarely a welcome or healthy or pleasant development. So, listen without judgement, to your child’s fears and ask them questions to help them solve their own problems. Brainstorm with them ways to handle friendship problems with your full support & encouragement.

Something bad happening to those they care about.

Children start to understand – at some level – that death is inevitable & they may begin to ponder & worry about something serious happening to you, someone they love or a pet.

Here’s an article I wrote about Coping With Bereavement’

Adolescents (Ages 12 and up)

Their image

Adolescence is when young people start asking the question “Who am I, and what am I doing here?” At this age, teens begin to fully grasp the importance of social interactions as they transition from a family-based support system to a peer-based one. This is the time to ‘Talk & Teach’ them about balance, selfies, hype around ‘FOMO – Fear of Missing Out’ on social media, photos- shopped images and ways to build their self-esteem, self-belief & ways to celebrate their individuality.

Their grades or performance

Adolescents begin to comprehend the consequences of failure – and this may breed a bit of fear. Teenagers who are achievement-oriented will especially be hard on themselves following a bad exam score or poor game on the playing field. So, have conversations around mistakes, failures and ways to get back up and have an another go. ‘Talk & Teach’ them about resilience.

Opening up to you

Adolescents understand (& crave) the importance of establishing some independence. Combine this knowledge with the fact that the teenage years can be fuelled by ‘fitting in’ and you may have a child in conflict with themselves.

Teens worry about their bodies, their spots, their hair, their friendships, their school work, and become far more self conscious.

Of course, the best thing we can do as parents is to reassure that we are always there for them calmly. No matter what. Unconditionally.

Keep the bridges of communication open, be there to listen not lecture and build bridges, not walls between you at this time.

For kids who are physically tense, worry a lot at night, and have trouble sleeping, relaxation techniques really can help. So, explore mindfulness, relation techniques, yoga or meditation with your teen.

General Guidelines for Any Age

When your child is afraid – whether they are age 5 or 15 – remember to approach their fears with respect.

  • Don’t try to talk your child out of being afraid.
  • Stay calm and confident. How you talk to your child about fears is as important as what you say.
  • Make time to listen.
  • When helping your child to confront fears, find out what feels comfortable. Don’t force your child to do more than that. However, don’t give your child a total “get out clause.” Complete avoidance isn’t the answer for anxiety either. Find a balance.
  • Practice coping responses in a variety of ways: with drawing, stuffed animals, or role-playing, meditation or talking things through.
  • Reassurance and celebrate small or big successes.

Explore my ‘Can Do Kid Journal for Super Heroes’  and my ‘iCan eCourse’ for Confidence in my Parenting Members Club


This article has been sponsored by ‘The Worrinots’ 

Worry-Not says The Worrinots

The Worrinots is a ground breaking, award winning app which allows children to share their worries and fears in a fun, safe and controlled environment.

The primary aim of The Worrinots is to provide children with a platform that they can use to communicate their worries, fears and anxieties. The Worrinots application and characters have been developed with the help of some of the UK’s leading child psychologists to encourage children to share their concerns and deal with them appropriately.

The Worrinots won the UK App Award 2017 and is accredited by Orcha, the organisation for the review of care and health applications

The app features engaging characters, Rip, Stomp, Shakey and Chomp – who through fun and encouragement, enable children to share their worries and concerns. The Worrinots exist to urge children to speak out and manage their emotions and feelings whilst being exposed in a fun way to coping mechanisms.

The four fun characters, each with their own individual personalities and guidance styles, ‘respond’ to the children, with instructions of next steps or follow up whilst whilst ‘ripping up’, ‘chewing’ and ‘stomping on their worries!’.

Meet The Worrinots

These character conversations are managed by a unique dual platform whereby the Worrinots App is downloaded in two parts – one which is managed by the parent / guardian and the other which is to be put in kids’ hands as a fun app.

Co-creator Tracy Gladman, has spent 20 years in education and has a real passion for working with and in the interests of, child wellbeing. She has left her teaching career to manage the Worrinots full time. The Worrinots team have worked closely with child psychologists to develop the app ensuring complete safety, security and effectiveness.

The app has been cleverly constructed to offer both a safe and fun environment for kids and complete security for parents and carers meeting a very real need of ensuring the happiness and the wellbeing of children.

Within the platform are ‘worri-tips’ which provide expert advice about sharing problems and hints and tips for managing concerns however big or small. These age appropriate tips can be ‘switched on or off’ allowing for relevant content depending on the child’s needs. The typical age of active users is children 4 – 12 years and their families and carers, however the app has been designed to flex and suit children of a slightly older age, to cater for those with learning difficulties or even Autism Spectrum Disorder.

 

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