Anxiety is not just an adult issue. Clinical research indicates that millions of children struggle with anxiety symptoms, with a recent analysis putting the number as high as 20.5% of youth worldwide.
“Sometimes anxiety can be hard to pinpoint as kids can manifest anxiety in different ways,” said Dr. Khadijah Booth Watkins, associate director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital. “This can be due to many factors such as the type of anxiety they’re experiencing, their age, or their language skills.”
While some kids experience physical symptoms like stomachaches, racing heartbeats and headaches, others exhibit emotional responses like increased tantrums or clinginess. Still, others become withdrawn and stop participating in activities or engaging with peers.
Even if you do not intend to create anxiety, some common behaviors and comments from parents can make kids feel anxious. Below, experts break down some parenting approaches that foster anxiety.
“Because of the uncomfortable sensation anxiety produces in the body, a child experiencing anxiety will most often develop avoidant behaviors,” said parenting educator Laura Linn Knight. “The child will avoid the thing that makes them uncomfortable, which may start off with a small avoidance but grow larger over time.”
For example, if your child is anxious about leaving you to go to school
BEING OVERLY PROTECTIVE
Another parenting approach that can foster anxiety in children is being overly protective. While it’s natural for parents to want to protect their children from harm, when it becomes excessive, it can hinder a child’s ability to develop independence and self-reliance.
“When children are not given the opportunity to experience age-appropriate challenges and risks, they may become more anxious and less confident in their abilities,” said Dr. Booth Watkins. “Overprotecting children can lead to them feeling that they are not capable of handling difficult situations on their own, which can increase their anxiety.”
Instead of shielding children from every potential danger, parents should aim to provide them with the tools and support they need to navigate through challenges and learn from their mistakes.
“It’s important for parents to find a balance between protecting children and allowing them to experience age-appropriate challenges,” Dr. Booth Watkins said. “This helps children develop a sense of mastery and control over their environment, which can decrease their anxiety.”
COMPARING CHILDREN TO OTHERS
Another parenting approach that can foster anxiety in children is comparing them to others. When children are constantly compared to their peers, it can create feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.
“Comparison is the thief of joy,” said Knight. “When children are constantly compared to their peers, they are not able to develop their own sense of self-worth.”
Additionally, when children are constantly compared to others, they may develop a fear of failure and become more anxious about not measuring up.
“Instead of comparing children to others, parents should focus on their unique strengths and talents,” Knight said. “This helps children develop a positive self-image and fosters a sense of self-worth, which can decrease anxiety.”
In conclusion, anxiety is a common issue among children, and there are a variety of parenting approaches that can foster anxiety. However, by avoiding encouraging avoidance, being overly protective, and comparing children to others, parents can