Anxiety is one of the most common and most frequently overlooked disorders of childhood. Anxiety disorders (which involve a level of anxiety that gets in the way of a child’s functioning in certain circumstances) are estimated to occur in 1 in 8 children. These kids tend to be overly shy, concerned about what people will think of them, worried about bad things happening to them or people they love, or nervous about being exposed to new situations. These thoughts can get in the way of their regular activities and cause problems with school, sleep, behavior, and even physical symptoms like headaches or abdominal pain. Anxiety was, until recently, nearly entirely overlooked in pediatric training programs; fortunately we are becoming better at recognizing and treating it. “Treatment” doesn’t always involve medication; in reality, the first-line (and most effective) treatment is something called cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT), which teaches children to recognize their fears and emotions and deal with them in healthy ways.
I just purchased and read What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety, written by Dawn Huebner, PhD and published by the American Psychological Association. This book is designed for parents to read with 6-12 year-old children. The book discusses anxiety in child-friendly language and guides children and parents through many of the principles used in CBT. There are interactive pages where children can draw pictures of how they picture their emotions or coping strategies, or write out lists of their fears. The chapters are short and designed to discuss with your child and practice implementing the strategies before moving on. Your child will understand what worries are, how they can be overwhelming, and how to cope with them in a healthy way. One of my favorite strategies from the book is establishing a “Worry Time,” in which you set aside a time every day for your child to share with you any worries that are bothering her. By doing so, your child learns not to dwell on these fears for the remainder of the day–and also, that many of her fears will disappear simply by choosing not to focus on them.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for an in-depth, adult-oriented explanation of anxiety disorders and management strategies, there are certainly better books out there. But this one is unique in that it’s meant for the parent and child to share, working together to develop strategies to conquer anxiety. It’s a great concept, and would be an excellent tool to start with if you’re dealing with an anxious child.
Disclaimer: This book is a great place to start, but please discuss any concerns with your child’s doctor or mental health provider.