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Anxiety in children: where does it come from?

November 15, 2012

by Michelle Morris

Anxiety can be overlooked in children.  Children experience various states of fear and anxiety from the moment they are born. Sometimes it is easy to tell if a child is anxious by their crying and clinging behaviours. But sometimes, it is difficult to identify anxiety in children. Some children hide their anxiety because it is too difficult for them to express it to others. Some children turn their anxiety into angry tantrums or defiant behaviours.

Some children are born with an anxious temperament and seem to be anxious of many situations right from the start. It is believed that up to fifteen percent of infants are born with a more anxious temperament.

There are developmental sources of anxiety throughout childhood as well and all children experience fears and worries as part of their normal development. Most young children experience fears of the dark, monsters, separation from parents, animals, and strangers. As children grow, these fears gradually change to fears about social acceptance, academic and sports achievements, health, mortality and family.

Other sources of anxiety for children arise from normal life and family transitions. Children go through many changes and transitions as they and their families grow and mature. For example the birth of a sibling, starting school, moving to a new home, death of an elderly grandparent, becoming accepted by a peer group, and mastering tasks in and out of school can all be stressful and anxiety-provoking for children.

In addition, difficult or even traumatic events that are out of the ordinary can happen to a child with the likelihood that anxiety will increase for that child. For example, parental conflict and separation, illness or injury of the child or the child’s family members, the unexpected death of a close family member, extended separations from parents, family or community violence, and natural disasters are all difficult and sometimes traumatic experiences for children to go through.

Michelle Morris is the principal psychologist at Life Resolutions Caroline Springs in Victoria.  She has over 30 years experience working in private practice and holds several qualifications. In additional to being a registered psychologist, she is a qualified nurse, midwife and holds postgraduate qualifications in law and family therapy.  Michelle has a special interest in family relationships. She is passionate in helping family members access skills to manage difficult and challenging times.

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