All children worry and are frightened from time to time. However, between 3 and 6 percent of children worry almost all of the time. They have a condition called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Many professionals consider GAD the common cold of anxiety and it’s prevalence among adults is even higher (lifetime prevalence up to 25%). Kids with GAD worry about things that might happen, or things that probably won’t happen, or things that absolutely won’t happen. Basically, they worry about everything.

GAD is serious in children because it interferes with their ability to enjoy life, make friends, and concentrate in school. Kids with GAD often suffer headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, or muscle tension. They may have difficulty sleeping, be irritable, or feel restless and agitated.

Like other emotional problems, GAD is caused by some combination of genetics, biology, learning, and/or experience. Lots of kids from very normal, happy families have GAD. So, if your child has GAD, don’t blame yourself; just make sure to get help.

The earthquake and tragedy in Haiti can have a very powerful effect on your child, with or without an anxiety disorder. All children are afraid of losing a parent, being lost and unable to get out, or getting hurt. The news coverage of this disaster lets kids know that this can happen. So, here are some tips in terms of handling this incident with your child.

  • Do not sit and watch television coverage of Haiti for extended periods of time with your children (actually, that’s pretty good advice even if you don’t have kids!). Very young children can be affected by seeing suffering or violence on the television even when they don’t understand what’s happening.
  • Do talk to your kids about their fears and concerns. What you say and do will depend on the age and interest of your child. You probably won’t be talking about earthquakes with your 3 year old. Many school aged children will have worries and some won’t bring it up. You can start a conversation by asking what they know about the situation.
  • Have a family plan in case of an emergency and discuss it with your children (as appropriate-based on their ages).
  • Keep the normal routines of daily life. All kids still need to do homework, go to school, eat and play.
  • Do something as a family to help the less fortunate. Yes, contribute to the relief work in Haiti, but also consider doing something locally.

Focus on the importance of relationships and be grateful.