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What is Your Child So Worried About? (and what can you do about it)

High School students are anxious about college. Middle School students are anxious about the approach of high school. Both groups are anxious about relationships. Everybody knows that. But what do first and second graders have to be anxious about?

Quite a lot, as it turns out. When you talk seriously with children between five and eight, as I have done for many years, you learn that they are often as worried about relationships and achievement as are their older siblings, as worried as their parents. Even young children tell me that they are worried about their grades, about whether their teaches like them, about whether their best friends are angry with them.

Younger children are especially likely to communicate about their worries physically. Headaches, stomaches, complaints of being tired–any one of these can signify chronic anxiety. They (especially the boys) may also communicate behaviorally. They may be especially stubborn or oppositional. This is so common that I’ll be devoting a future post to the topic of how to tell when your child’s challenging behavior is a sign of acute anxiety and when it is something else.

My major point today is that even very young children experience anxiety. They are hardly ever aware of it themselves: if you’ re anxious all the time or much of the time, it starts to feel normal. And even when young children are aware of not feeling well, they don’t have the language to tell you about it. That’s why they need your help.

Fortunately, the help they need is of a sort that parents can provide: patience, interest, careful listening, unconditional acceptance, and more patience.

Next time: how to do this.

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