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Child Anxiety: When to Worry/When to Relax

anxiety in childrenAll 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.

Child Anxiety: When to Worry/When to Relax

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D.

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and a Founding Fellow in the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. He is also a member of the faculty at Fielding Graduate University. He specializes in the treatment of adolescents and adults with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, anger, depression, and personality disorders. Dr. Elliott is coauthor of: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2nd Ed), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Why Can't I Get What I Want?, Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be?, and Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth. His website is:

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APA Reference
Elliott, C. (2011). Child Anxiety: When to Worry/When to Relax. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 10, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Apr 2011
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