Anxiety in children can be a major challenge for both the child and the parents. Child anxiety can take many forms and be very strong or weaker, only appear in certain situations or being a constant factor in the life of the child – and the family.
While every child is different, and the anxieties they feel are just as unique, anxiety in children is an issue that many families struggle with. It is estimated that around five percent of all kids suffer from child anxiety.
Anxiety can be seen in kids of every age, from three to four years of age to teens of the cusp of adulthood. Sometimes it is a fear of being separated from the parents, sometimes it’s an anxiety and muteness around other children, sometimes it can be a general anxiety that’s hard to pin down.
In any case, it can be much worse if it goes untreated until the child grows up. What was child anxiety can become a serious problem with difficult anxiety disorders and depression.
Because the anxiety can influence many important parts of a child’s life, and is often connected to social situations, finding a way to reduce its power and influence is an important task for a parent who sees that the child is not enjoying his or her childhood and life because of anxiety.
But in many cases, it is possible to reduce the power of anxiety in children to the point where it no longer has an impact. That was the case with my kids, and that’s the reason I made this website.
My Own Story
My name is Ann, and I’m a mother of three.
My two oldest kids struggled with child anxiety before I was able to help them conquer it.
My son’s seventh birthday was ruined because of his anxiety, and my daughter was turning into an unhappy girl with bad separation anxiety.
I tried many ways to free my son and daughter from their anxiety, but nothing seemed to work.
Anxiety in children is a bad thing in itself, putting a terrible damper on a happy, careless childhood. I saw first hand how it seemed to suck the joy out of my own kids.
On this page I want to tell you how my husband and I were able to set our kids free from their crippling child anxiety.
In one case it was a long process, in the other case it was not. My youngest has never had any trace of anxiety at all.
I know that many parents are worried about their children being anxious, but there are ways to help your kids get rid of their anxiety. I want to show you the way that worked for me and my children. Maybe it will work for you, too!
When my oldest child “Justin” (not his real name, but the one I’ll use to protect his anonymity) was about five, we started to notice that he seemed reluctant to make contact with other kids his own age.
This was new, because up until then, he had been just as active and happy exploring the world as every other boy. He loved to play with other kids his own age or even older, and when we were outside in the yard, we would sometimes have to go get him from the yard of a neighbor, where he would be happily chatting with any kid or adult present.
Once, at a camping site with several other campers, we lost track of him for a few moments, but we soon found him at the other side of the field, a hundred yards away. He was perched under the camping chair of an elderly lady, preparing to jab a plastic fork right up at her wide behind. Of course, she didn’t know that he was even there. Luckily, we were able to get him before any scandal erupted!
So our boy didn’t seem to be the shy or anxious type. Of course he would sometimes be afraid of the dark, and would occasionally cry if we left him with others for a few hours, but these were normal reactions that every kid has.
No Apparent Reason
As far as we could tell, nothing terribly bad happened to him around the time he turned five, but we did notice him becoming more clingy and anxious when we left him at daycare or when we suggested he play with other kids.
I suppose things could have happened to him that we still don’t know about, because sensitive kids can sometimes be easy to scare or make fearful, and kids can be cruel to each other. But he was such a happy kid otherwise.
A Shy Boy?
Justin became more and more shy with other children, often preferring to play by himself or with a few people he already knew, always older ones. Some shyness is normal in kids, for a limited time, but Justin seemed to be getting more reserved and reclusive.
He would sometimes have outbursts of anger that seemed almost without reason, difficulties falling asleep, and he seemed to worry more than usual. At the same time, he was usually a trusting kid with people he knew.
More Worries, Less Joy
But he wasn’t as happy as he used to, and we could see that he worried about things. When we asked him what he worried about, it was usually about something in the future, like if we were expecting visitors or something special that was going to happen at school the next day.
My husband and I didn’t worry much about that. We knew that kids have different phases they have to go through, and different kids have different phases. In short, we thought he would grow out of it.
But time goes by so quickly…
We See How Bad It Is
On his seventh birthday, we knew something was just not right. His birthday is in the summer, and we had a garden party with many family members, their kids, and some of Justin’s little friends from the neighborhood.
Justin has known some of these people well all his life, some are more recent friends, but all are completely safe and normal people. There weren’t that many, either – maybe twelve or fifteen guests. It should be a safe, happy event for Justin, and he was the center of attention – a dream day for any child, I would have thought.
From the first guests arrived, Justin didn’t say a word to anyone for five hours, when most of the guests had left.
- Justin was given presents by the guests as they arrived – he said nothing except whispering “thank you”, didn’t answer friendly questions from his aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
- He obviously detested being the center of attention.
- We had to take him a little bit away from the others to get him to blow out the lights on his birthday cake. He didn’t say a word, and was clearly not comfortable.
- He played by himself while the other kids did their antics around him.
- He stared at the ground and didn’t acknowledge the people around him.
For his father and me, it was heartbreaking to see Justin so clearly not enjoying his own party and looking longingly at the other kids playing. But it really was not anything new, for he had been shy for a long time. It was just becoming so obvious that we simply could not miss it.
This Is Not Normal
It was clear to us that Justin was becoming much more shy than what is normal or healthy for kids. I think the normal behavior for kids is to perhaps be apprehensive at first, when the new guests arrive, and then to thaw up and become more sociable as the party goes on.
Justin didn’t loosen up until most of the guests had left, but then he was his usual happy self again – and we saw that he was relieved they had gone.
I did not sleep much that night, and I spent most of the next day researching child anxiety online. I found many books that dealt with it, but mainly as a side note in books about anxiety in adults.
I Do Some Reading…
I ordered some books anyway, then read them and took what I thought I could use. That was more difficult than I had thought it would be – was it Generalized Anxiety Disorder, was it just excessive worry, was it Social Phobia, Separation Anxiety Disorder, or what? And should the approach be Cognitive Behavioral, did Justin just have to relax more, get more sleep, or what?
Everything seemed to make sense, and I did recognize Justin’s problems in some of what I read. And it was very academical, I thought, and the authors really went out of their way to explain the theories behind their way of thinking.
… But It Doesn’t Help Much
That was all very well and good, but not all that useful to me at the time. I’m not going to mention any of the books I read, because I didn’t really use them in the end. But they gave me a good theoretical background in child anxiety, I guess.
One thing I got from the books is that when kids are anxious and clearly too shy, it is called child anxiety. There’s no need to separate different kinds of anxiety in children – it is basically the same monster that makes itself known in different ways. And the treatment is the same.
I tried one approach in what I thought was the best of the books for a little over three weeks, but it didn’t really resonate with Justin. That’s normal – some methods don’t work for some kids. And to be fair, that method (giving him a thought pattern that helps banish the negative thoughts) was one that did work in the end, but in a different way.
I Need Something Stronger
But at least it got me to think of what I really needed to help him get over his anxiety, and what I had in mind was something like an effective, simple step-by-step guide. Some of the books did have that, but they seemed less detailed than what I wanted, and I got the feeling that they were some kind of program for adults that had been slightly changed to fit children.
I’m not a psychiatrist or anything in the medical profession, but it seems to me that kids have to be treated very differently from adults when you want to help them shake their anxiety.
I Try Something
So I ended up taking some of the methods that made sense to me and sort of designed my own program for Justin.
That meant talking to him and trying to find out what was really bothering him, and teaching him to breathe right.
Breathing right means breathing with your stomach, in a way. If I understand it correctly, it is the diaphragm that pulls the air into the lungs, which means that you get more air into them. It automatically makes you relax!
I find that it helps a lot. It takes a while to learn to always breathe like that, but kids take to it right away.
Also, I told him that there are some things in life we just can’t control, and that it’s OK if some things don’t go the way we want them to. And that his dad and I loved him no matter what happened.
And he did get better! After a few weeks, he seemed less anxious around other kids. But he was still too timid and he seemed to get more anxious of being away from us in the daytime. And his sleep problems got worse.
We pretty much decided that we would give it one more try, and then we would see a child psychiatrist.
Other parents were also commenting on Justin’s shyness and how easily he would now break into tears at the slightest problem. His teacher at school also mentioned something like that – but without telling us anything very helpful about how to deal with it, for some reason. I would have thought that teachers are used to dealing with anxiety in children.
I was on the lookout for a new resource, but I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for! So frustrating. I talked a lot with other moms at work and in school, and some of them had anxious kids, but they were mostly just hoping they would grow out of it.
A Last Try
My husband talked about it too, and I guess he mentioned our problem to someone at work, like parents sometimes do with other parents.
And one of the moms at his office had a suggestion that she had used with her own daughter, who was also anxious growing up.
It was a combination of books and CDs that was a complete program in how to help a child beat anxiety, and it was made specifically for child anxiety. (For reference, it’s called The Anxiety-Free Child. I’ll put a link to it at the bottom of this story.)
I really liked the tone of it, and that it seemed really thorough. And it was a complete program, with both written text and audio files that the child listens to on their own. It looked much more complete than the books I had.
At almost a hundred dollars, it was much more than a book. On the other hand, I was ready to spend something like a hundred times that on child psychiatrists. So I bought it.
I downloaded it right away – but I didn’t start using it.
Because in my mind, I was already thinking of the sessions with the psychiatrist: How would we prepare Justin? Would it be several sessions a week? When and where would the sessions take place? How would we involve Justin’s school? Would it work? Would it take a long time? How much would it cost? Could we even find a qualified child psychiatrist not too far away? Would other people think he was “crazy” if they found out?
I was ready to actually set up an appointment when my husband said:
“Should we try that program we got?” So we did. That was about two weeks after we got it.
I’m Pretty Sure This Can’t Work
By this time, I think I was a little downbeat and sort of disappointed in all the books I had bought, and I sure didn’t think this program would work either.
For one thing, it was so much material, I thought it would be a really big and long project. As it turned out, I didn’t need to use nearly all of it to help my son conquer his child anxiety, but it is a great resource to have.
Actually, the program itself is simple enough, and that’s what I think I missed in the books I read. They seemed too complex, when the minds of children are really pretty straightforward in many ways.
I started to read, and I loved the tone in the main manual and on the CDs. These were experienced people who knew what they were talking about, and they obviously cared a lot about helping children kill their anxiety monster.
And the parent didn’t have to do everything, because the CDs are for the child to listen to by themselves.
Okay, I was ready to get going with this. One last try before we call the child psychiatrist.
I started using the program with Justin, and he seemed to take to it right away. The simplicity and the directness really worked for both him and me.
The program is really all about helping the child handle his or her anxiety when it occurs, and that means changing the thought patterns in the brain.
It sounds both hard and complicated, but it’s not. It’s really just about helping the kid think differently about certain things, and then make it a habit to do it every time something happens that could give anxiety.
Soon, the anxiety will become something that can be handled, and it loses its hold and disappears in time.
With adults, that can take time, but it seems that kids have minds that are much more eager to adapt and accept change that is good.
The program told me exactly what to do and what to teach Justin to do that would be the most effective and work the fastest. That suited me perfectly – this kind of autopilot takes all the doubts out of the process. And no time is wasted doing things that don’t work.
The program told us to just spend a few minutes a day on the exercises, because that’s all that’s needed with young children. They have fantastic memories, and they learn so quickly!
A key point for Justin was to not be overwhelmed with thoughts of “what might go wrong”, or “what if…” and things like that. Learning to change the way he thinks about that was very important to him. It’s called the Four-Step Technique in the program. It’s really simple, and is a pretty good way to handle anxious thoughts that come up. Actually, I have used that technique myself a couple of times – it works just as well for adults!
Yikes, That’s Quick!
I did not expect Justin to show any improvement for weeks. But just two days later, he did!
He insisted on going to the local convenience store all by himself, something he had never done before. I knew we were on to something then.
More Small Successes
We continued practicing and following the program every day, and it became easier and easier to get Justin to react better and deal with his negative thoughts in a much, much better way than before.
It seems to attack the anxiety demon on many fronts at the same time, and one little success leads to the next bigger one. I don’t know many times I had tears in my eyes after seeing Justin score a little breakthrough against his anxiety, but it was many times…
- I sent him to a neighbor to borrow some sugar. I didn’t need any, but he needed that little victory
- I sent him to soccer practice on his own so he could practice his new anxiety-handling skills out of school without me or his dad standing right behind him
- I gave him little social tasks to accomplish at school, like getting to know a kid not in his own class
- I let him have a little party with some kids from school
What happened was that Justin got more and more eager to try out his new skills, because it was fun!
My husband was by now more involved in it than before, and I think that helped a lot. And he was great, making a little game out of it and doing everything so naturally. Justin really responded to that, and I think that whole thing turned into a little bonding experience for them.
On The Right Track
After about three weeks, Justin was sleeping well, he was having more kids over to play, he was often away for hours at some other kid’s house, and he was just so much freer and happier. He was still a little more timid in large groups, but we kept the process going, and he showed a lot of progress. Justin himself called it “turning it off”, meaning the anxiety, and especially the tension he would feel before some planned event.
It’s Like Tying Your Shoes
The creator of the program we used makes what I think is a great point: He compares getting rid of those negative thoughts to how you teach your child to tie their shoes!
Because what happens in the brain is pretty much the same thing: The brain learns how to move the arms and fingers to tie a knot, and that takes a few tries the first couple of times. But when it works, it sticks forever, and you never have to think about it again. You just tie your shoes. Practice makes perfect, and it’s the same that happens when a child learns to think differently when he or she starts to feel anxious. It becomes automatic – and it becomes part of who they are.
Christmas came around, and we always celebrate with a big party on the 23rd. We have both friends and family over. My mother, who hadn’t seen him for about six months, was the first to tell me:
“What happened to Justin? He’s like a different boy!”
And he really was – running to the door to greet the guests when they rang the doorbell, chatting happily with the other kids and taking a lead in their playing, even. He was still not super happy about being the center of attention in a room full of people, but he was doing so much better that we knew he was fine.
Since then, we have just kept an eye on his behavior in situations that could be new and potentially scary, with the occasional repetition of how he can control the anxiety. His teacher really noticed a difference, she said, because now Justin is much more active socially in school.
He is much less worried now, too. And he has no problem at all sleeping.
In short, he behaves normally for a boy his age, and we are very relieved.
The monster has been killed. His child anxiety is gone.
That whole process took about five months, but the method in The Anxiety-Free Child worked in three weeks. The main delay was sifting through all the different books I got and trying some of the stuff in them. I wished we would have known about The Anxiety-Free Child to start with, but we got where we wanted to get in the end.
I’ll put a link to the The Anxiety-Free Child program a little further down this page.
“Clara” (also not her real name) is our middle child, and she is two years younger than Justin. Her pattern growing up was a lot like Justin’s, so I knew that when she hit around six or seven, she might start showing signs of child anxiety.
And she did.
Not in the same way as Justin did, though. She started having strong separation anxiety, crying and physically clinging on whenever her father or I were leaving the house for whatever reason. She also took to wanting to sleep in our bed every night.
And she often complained about stomachaches and she became very self-critical about things that she actually mastered just fine. Again, nothing had happened that would release her anxieties, at least not that we know of.
But this time we were ready, and we started working on overcoming her anxieties as soon as my husband and I agreed that her behavior was not just a short phase. It seemed to have a real impact on her joy of life, which had up until that point been off the scale. And it seemed to get worse.
Clara Wins, Too!
We used the same program that we had used for Justin, The Anxiety-Free Child, and modified it a little to suit Clara better. She had noticed how we had done the same for her brother, and that helped to make her eager to try being “just like Justin”. Little siblings are like that!
We established a simple little routine for her to go through every time she felt scared that mom or dad would leave her, and we practiced doing it a few times. She would take three deep breaths, remember very clearly that Mon and Dad said they would never leave, and so on.
She was noticeably better the next day!
And it took just a week or so to make sure that she really had gotten over it.
It went so fast we couldn’t believe it.
A Triumph Over Child Anxiety
Neither Justin or Clara have had any abnormal anxiety since, and they are enjoying what seems to be pretty happy childhoods.
Our youngest child has never shown any sign of anxiety, but if it happens later, we know exactly what to do about it.
Our kids are not fearless, because no one is. And Justin is still a little careful about getting to know someone before he trusts them completely, but that is his personality, not child anxiety.
It was a happy ending for us, and among all the different challenges of raising kids, I have a strong feeling that the worst and by far most serious one is behind us.
(Here is the program that worked for us: The Anxiety-Free Child Program)
It Is Possible!
I hope my story is useful to you, and the most important thing I want to say with this website is that you can set your children free from child anxiety – and it can go quickly!
The bottom line is that it is possible to set your child free from their anxiety. We used The Anxiety-Free Child – you may prefer to use something else. My point is just to motivate you and tell you that it can be done!
Your children will be happier and healthier, they will be able to enjoy their childhoods like they are supposed to, and when they grow up, they will have better lives because they will not have to battle old, untreated anxieties.
Freeing your children from anxiety could be the best thing you do for them.
And it can be the best thing you do for yourself!
Because having happy, well adjusted kids that are able to enjoy their childhoods to the full will make your whole family happier. My family is much happier now, we are closer, I don’t worry as much as before, the kids are able to enjoy their childhoods, and everything seems… well, brighter, in a way.
You don’t have to worry about what to do with your children that are too anxious – and that will make your life better! I know first hand what that’s like, and believe me: My life as a parent is much better now that we have killed the anxiety monster once and for all.
If you want to ask me questions about my story, or have comments, please use the comment form below.
I wish you the best of luck in setting your children free from anxiety!
PS: I’ll let my husband have the last word. After he saw the excellent progress Justin was making, he exclaimed: “I tell ya, this stuff… it’s like we have our own, personal child psychologist!”
Update: Read my update one year later here.