So it is just “anxiety”

14 Jul


\Just Anxiety’


I often hear parents explain to me that their child is “just anxious” or that they have been told that their child is anxious. As in, “Johnny is not doing well in school because he is anxious.” By giving him the label of “being anxious,” it may appear that we now understand his behavior. It would certainly be better than suggesting he is just trying to make life difficult. But I don’t think that by itself, saying your child is anxious is very helpful. Too often it can be a catch-all phrase, like “stress,” that doesn’t really say anything. There is a good chance you already know that on some level, and the problem is just being redescribed. To be helpful, a label or description must be specific enough to point in some direction or suggest a course of action. In the most general sense, to be anxious is to anticipate some danger. But we need be more specific about what, how and why your child has anxious symptoms. Some questions that need to be pursued include the following:

  1. What      situations trigger your child’s concern?
  2. While      the situation might be anxiety-provoking for many children, such as the      beginning of the school year, does the passage of time or experience help      the fears diminish?
  3. Alternatively,      is the anxiety more a manifestation that the child has “too much on her      plate” or has too many things to deal with?
  4. Turning      more specifically to your child, what is it about her that makes her view      a situation as more dangerous than the situation seems to merit? Some      possibilities to consider include:
    1. The       child has always been apprehensive, shy or had difficulty maintaining a       steady state.
    2. The       child may have an undiagnosed medical problem.
    3. The       child may have a learning disability that makes it hard to keep up with       his classmates.
    4. The       child may have a condition such as ADHD, which in some ways makes the       world less predictable. As a result, the child feels more ambushed by       surprises on a daily basis.
    5. Finally,       it may be that your child is just “wired” with an overactive alarm       system, but it will still be important to specify the things that seem to       set it off.


It is important to try to be specific about your child’s anxiety. Conversely, you may also want to think about the situations and ways in which your child is not anxious.

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