All children experience anxiety or fear from time to time. Some fear and anxiety are normal. In fact, if kids never felt anxious at all, they would be slow to learn how to stay safe. They would likely be less motivated to study and they would have a harder time keeping their behavior in line with expectations.
So, how do you know if a child is experiencing normal, expected levels of anxiety as opposed to something that would be cause for concern or even a referral to a professional?
Certain fears and anxiety are especially typical at certain ages. The table below is excerpted from our recent book, “Child Psychology and Development For Dummies.” It describes the types of fears that are especially common at certain ages and thus, not worth worrying about. It also notes at what point you may wish to consider checking things out further.
In a future blog, we’ll discuss what the various types of truly worrisome childhood anxiety look like.
Table 14-2 Normal Childhood Fears and When to Worry
Fear Typical Ages When to Worry
|Separation anxiety shown when the primary caregiver leaves the child’s presence||Quite typical between about 6 months and 2 years||After the age of 3 or 4 years, this type of anxiety should be quite mild. Otherwise, it’s worth checking out.|
|Anxiety and fear demonstrated when strangers show up||Quite common between 6 and 10 months||This fear is not problematic unless it occurs after the age of 2 or 3. Even then, kids may be somewhat shy, which is a problem only if it seems to be severe.|
|Fear of new, unfamiliar kids the same age||Quite common from ages 2 to 3||You should be concerned if this fear has not started to abate shortly after age 3.|
|Fears of darkness, monsters, and animals||Frequent between the ages of 2 and 6||This type of fear should begin improving by the age of 6 or so.|
|Fear of school||Typical of kids age 3 to 6 or so, although they usually calm down fairly quickly when they’re left at the setting; sometimes shows up again briefly when a child transitions to middle school||Kids should not be showing this problem more than mildly after the age of 6 or briefly, when they start middle school. If it continues, it’s a concern. Sometimes, the fear is due to bullying at school. Consider checking with a child’s teachers or school counselor to see whether that’s going on.|
|Fear of being judged or evaluated negatively by others||Very common in teenagers||Generally, this fear will gradually reduce through adolescence, but it’s not rare or particularly troubling if it continues through the late teens. If it is severe enough to cause a child to avoid desired activities (sports, parties, debate clubs, and so on), it should definitely be checked out.|
The Bottom Line: Many childhood anxieties go away on their own and you can relax about them. However, if they continue beyond certain ages, or are especially severe, you should probably have the problem checked out by a child mental health professional.
Photo by Anthony Kelly, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.