Excerpt from Freeing Your Child from Anxiety

from Chapter One—Anxiety in Children: Too Much of a Good Thing

"Don't run into the street, stop climbing on that, careful, that will break." These are words that most parents have to say over and over again, but that most parents of anxious children will probably never have to utter. In fact, parents may find themselves kept in check by their worrying child—"Did you lock the door? Is the gas tank full? Did you send in the permission slip?"

Though it can often be confusing or frustrating to parents that their child must feel every wrinkle in the day and race ahead to prepare for every eventuality, we must understand that anxious kids are just doing what their brain tells them to do. Anxious children are highly cautious, overcorrecting for the possibility of danger. In fact their wiring has them seeing danger when it's not there. Born with a mind that casts tall, scary shadows on ordinary things, they spend their days enduring great distress over things that their peers don't even notice.

Anxious kids may recognize that they are different, but they don't know why, assuming that this is just how they are. Because we don't see things as anxious kids do, we may be impatient, judgmental, and perhaps even overprotective, but not necessarily effective. The more that we can understand about what our children are seeing and feeling when they are anxious, distortions and all, the more we can empathize. If we don't empathize, we lose our audience. They won't stick around for the lesson, because they think you don't understand the problem in the first place.

Children's fears are a source of concern, distress, and even embarrassment for parents. When it's their child who is hiding in the corner at the birthday party, in tears at the school play, or unable to go on the school camping trip, parents are stuck. Rather than getting mobilized to help, parents often feel an urgent need to find the "off" button for those fears to simply stop. What fuels that concern further are two thoughts: first, "this shouldn't be happening, my child shouldn't be afraid," and second, "I don't know how to fix it." It is this two-part punch that fear delivers to parents, immobilizing their helpfulness response and leaving both them and their kids at a loss—or more often in a "you should," "I can't" contest of wills.

This chapter introduces the concept of fear—how it functions as an essential safeguard for survival. Fears and worries can help children put the brakes on in situations with which they are unfamiliar. Rather than hurling yourself into a swimming pool when you don't know how to swim, a good dose of fearful "what if?" can keep a healthy degree of caution in the picture until that is no longer needed. In addition, this chapter explores the differences between normal fears and anxieties, and takes an inside look at how anxiety shapes a child's experience. Finally, it presents different models for how fears and anxieties develop, exploring the influence of such factors as genetics, temperament, and experience. The bottom line is that children come by fears honestly. The more parents understand that fear is nothing for them to fear, the more they can be instrumental in helping kids out of these glitches.