Ask Dr. Dina: How much anxiety is normal for a kid?

A little anxiety is okay but too much can be a problem.

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

My kid often feels nauseated and has trouble sleeping due to worrying. How much anxiety is “normal”? 

We all experience anxiety from time to time. When we think we’re in a dangerous situation, the brain releases the hormones adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones prime the body so it is ready to fight or run away from that risk. Nowadays, we aren’t often in truly dangerous situations, but anxiety still kicks in when we feel threatened. Small amounts of anxiety can actually improve performance, but if we get too overwhelmed, it can start to interfere with our day-to-day lives.

If your child is anxious, try these techniques.
Open conversation: Talk openly with your kid, and let him lead the conversation. Ask questions and actively listen to the answers.

Create structure and routine: The predictability of routines helps kids feel safe and secure.

Reward brave behaviour: Talk to your kid when you notice her face a situation she finds scary. Let her know you are pleased and ask if she is proud of herself.

Don’t transmit your fears: Children take their emotional cues from their parents. If they see you are scared of spiders, they are also likely to be. Try not to let your fears show. If phobias are a serious problem for you, consider getting some help to overcome them.

Acknowledge all feelings: Let your child verbally express emotions. It is OK to say we are scared, angry or worried.

Dina Kulik is a paediatrician and emergency room doctor in Toronto and mom to three boys, who are five, three and 17 months. Send her your kids’ health questions at editors@todaysparent.com

Read more:
4 tips for managing anxiety in preschoolers
Anxiety disorders in children
6 ways to calm your anxious child

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