“What Makes a Child Have Anxiety?”
I am literally asked this question every week in my child therapy practice. Parents want to know what makes a child have anxiety. What trauma, stress or poor parenting approach is to blame? What horrible series of events morphed their once happy-go-lucky child into an anxious mess?
Your child is anxious, but they’ve suffered no trauma and have a good family life. What makes a child have anxiety? A Child Therapist explains.
Here are some important things to know.
Anxiety has a strong genetic component.
Anxiety runs in families. Yup, that’s right. So, not only can your kids inherit your Aunt Gertrude’s green eyes, they can inherit her anxiety as well. Any anxiety or mood disorder in the family history can put your kids at a higher risk of having those issues themselves.
Anxiety doesn’t have to come from trauma or stress.
Often when parents ask, “What makes a child have anxiety?” they are looking for the source of the problem. Unfortunately, however, kids can develop acute anxiety out of nowhere. They can suddenly become phobic of something they used to love. They can develop stomachaches and refuse to go to school – even if there is nothing at school stressing them out.
They can have panic attacks without any triggers or stressors. They can be afraid someone is going to break into their house, even if they’ve never experienced a burglary.
They can develop such an acute fear of socializing, that they want to be homeschooled.
Anxiety doesn’t have to be based in reality. Far from it in fact. Anxiety loves to create “What If” scenarios that are far-fetched and irrational. If you are looking for the rational explanation for your child’s anxiety, you aren’t getting anxiety.
Anxiety isn’t going to just go away.
Parents will often want to know when their child’s anxiety will go away. Anxiety isn’t like a cold. You don’t catch it one minute and get rid of it the next. It is a long-term issue. That being said, kids who are given the tools to beat their anxiety do incredibly well. You can’t prevent your kids from getting anxiety, but you can give them the tools to fight it.
Poor parenting doesn’t cause anxiety.
Parents are quick to blame themselves or each other for their child’s anxiety. The truth is, poor parenting in and of itself can’t create an Anxiety Disorder. If you are an anxious parent, it is more likely that your genes rather than your parenting is to blame.
Having said that, anxious parenting doesn’t help anxious kids –it can exacerbate the problem. If you are an anxious parent get your own support so you can learn how to keep your own anxiety in check while parenting.
What makes a child have anxiety now?
Parents will often ask, “Why now? What happened this year to cause such anxiety to happen out of the blue?” If anxiety is caused by a genetic pre-disposition then it can happen at any time. I often equate it to seeds. We are all given genetic seeds that can be watered and grown or that stay dormant. Children with a pre-disposition to anxiety may have always had the genetic seeds. Sometimes stress, life events or reaching a certain age activate those seeds and cause them to grow.
What steps should I take to help?
I tell parents to be proactive and get their kids help. The prognosis for anxiety is much better the sooner a child is given the tools to fight it. Read parenting books on how to help anxious kids. Buy children’s books on how to beat anxiety. Watch parenting videos that teach you how to parent an anxious kid. Get some additional support and find a child therapist. Your child’s anxiety doesn’t have to be severe for you to see a therapist. The earlier the better.
Anxiety is highly treatable.
The good news is that anxiety is highly treatable. Just because a child develops anxiety, doesn’t mean they are doomed to live an anxious life forever. Children can be taught cognitive-behavioral approaches to beat their anxiety. They can be given tools to counteract the feelings of stress and panic. Once parents accept that their child has anxiety, they can move on to helping their child work through it.
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