- Parenting Styles and Anxiety
- Anxiety in Girls vs. Boys
- Anxiety Disorders in Children
- Signs of Anxiety in Children
- How to Help an Anxious Child
- Check Children for Anxiety
There are times when your child will feel anxious about different things — this is perfectly normal. We can expect children to worry and stress about school, friends, and their own thoughts at different stages in their development.
Parents should be as supportive as possible, helping their children see the best even in challenging situations. However, there are times when parents fail and bring about anxiety in their kids. Sometimes this is due to the way guardians exercise their parental authority over children.
Parenting styles and anxiety
The following are the three types of parenting:
Authoritarian parenting. The parent sets strict rules they expect their children to obey. The child has little to no room for negotiation or to make ordinary mistakes.
Authoritative parenting. The parent communicates well with the child, setting regulations and enforcing them in a non-punitive way.
Permissive parenting. The child is allowed to do what they want without the need to meet specific expectations. Parents set limited rules but rarely enforce them.
Uninvolved parenting: Children have absolute freedom. Uninvolved parents rarely communicate with their kids.
There is overwhelming evidence that parenting styles can influence children’s growth and development. The effects are more pronounced in adolescents and show in academic performance as well as in how children set goals in life. The most affected are individuals between the ages of 14 and 18.
Younger children, especially those between 6 months to 3 years, are also greatly affected by specific parenting styles. They are more likely to develop separation anxiety if their parents are neglectful. If you spot a child who’s clingy or cries when their parents leave, it could be a sign of separation anxiety. However, such behavior may also be normal for kids and should lessen as they pass their fourth year. If clinginess persists past early childhood, then you have a reason for concern.
Authoritarian parenting, which uses stern, harsh behavior with children, can lead to moderately-high levels of anxiety, depression, and withdrawal. Children who’re brought up by authoritarian parents tend to be worried about things that a normal child shouldn’t be worried about.
In contrast, children who receive strong emotional support from their guardians become better at controlling their emotions. Even in situations that naturally provoke a strong emotional response, this group of children can maintain a calm composure.
The reassurance of authoritative and positively permissive parenting also protects children from stress and depression. Such kids are familiar with love and care and somehow develop tolerance to psychological pressure.
Parental-influenced anxiety in girls vs. boys
Interestingly, child anxiety associated with parenting styles seems to be more pronounced in female children than in males. This phenomenon is not adequately explained in science. Perhaps even more unsettling is that female children who feel they were neglected or rejected by one or both parents may attempt suicide at least once in their lifetime.
Anxiety disorders that affect children
There are several anxiety disorders that can affect any kid or teen. Some of them include:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): Children with GAD will worry over many of the same things as most other children — for example, homework, exams, or making mistakes. However, with GAD, children worry more about these things and do so more often. It is also possible for a child with GAD to worry over things you wouldn’t expect to cause worry. In particular, this disorder makes it hard for kids to relax and have fun. They may also exhibit challenges in eating well or falling asleep at night.
Separation anxiety disorder (SAD): A child will usually outgrow the fear of being apart from their parent. Sometimes, however, a child may fail or delay outgrowing this stage. That’s when they’re said to have a separation anxiety disorder. Some children experience the symptoms of SAD even as they grow older. They may show signs like clinging to a parent, crying or refusing to go to school, sleepovers, playdates, and other activities without the company of their parent. A child with SAD may have trouble falling asleep or sleeping alone at home.
Social anxiety disorder (social phobia): This disorder makes kids worry too much about being rejected by others, or how others would judge them. They may be afraid that they’re going to do or say something embarrassing. A child with social phobia will want to avoid the company of peers, causing them to skip school. As a result, they may feel sick or too tired for school.
Panic disorder: It is normal for panic attacks to happen. However, anxiety attacks are more intense and can cause visible symptoms that may concern a parent. You may notice that some situations get your child feeling shaky or jittery. Some may tremble, have a racing heart rate, or experience shortness of breath. Teens are the most affected by anxiety attacks.
Selective mutism: If your child talks comfortably at home with people they’re close to but won’t say a word in the company of other people, it could be a sign of selective mutism. Such behavior is most noticeable in school when the teacher reports that your child won’t just talk. Children with this fear may also avoid talking to friends or talking in strange places.
Specific phobias: Perhaps the most noticeable anxiety disorder, a phobia is more extreme and may stay with you for a long time. A child with a phobia will dread a specific thing and avoid it at all costs. Well-known phobias include the fear of heights, confined places, insects, and more.
Signs of anxiety in children
It can be difficult for a child to communicate their fears when they’re anxious. Sometimes they don’t know that they’re actually afraid of something until you talk to them. Your child may be dealing with anxiety if they:
- Can’t fall asleep easily
- Start wetting their bed
- Become clingy, tearful, or irritable
- Wake up in the night
- Have nightmares
In older children, you may notice that your son or daughter:
- Finds it difficult to concentrate
- Has angry outbursts
- Lack of confidence to try new things
- Is unable to face simple challenges
- Can’t sleep or eat properly
- Has a lot of negative thoughts
- Avoids everyday activities, such as seeing friends or going to school
How to help an anxious child
When your child is feeling anxious, there are a couple of things you can do to make them feel safe and calm. The following is a list of things you can do to help:
Talk to your child about their worries. If they have the assurance that you understand what they’re going through, it will help them manage such situations easier in the future. Older children will understand when you explain what anxiety is and the effects involved. Tell them you’ve been there before or sometimes have to deal with difficult situations but always find a way through. It will reassure them that they’re not alone.
Children are entirely dependent on their parents or guardians for support. Even when it doesn’t seem like your behavior influences certain outcomes in their lives, know that it does. As a result, strive to be a source of positive reinforcement, not exercising unwarranted authority that threatens their psychological well-being. It also helps to:
- Teach children to identify signs of anxiety in themselves and those close to them
- Encourage children to ask for help when they can’t manage their anxiety
- Be consistent in how you discipline your children
- Prepare children by talking to them about major life events and changes
- Avoid being overprotective
- Manage your anxiety or don’t allow your children to witness uncomfortable moments between you and your spouse or other people you may have disagreements with
- Offer distractions when your child is going through an experience that makes them anxious
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Experts recommend that professionals check children for general anxiety disorders who are subject to compromised parenting. They also suggest that it is helpful to educate students about the risk factors of anxiety and depression so that they’re aware of the outcomes of the environments in which they grow up.
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Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica: "Perception of rejecting and neglectful parenting in childhood relates to lifetime suicide attempts for females – but not for males."
International Journal of Psychological Research: "Parenting Styles, Anxiety and Depressive Symptoms in Child/Adolescent."
Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry: "Research Review: The relation between child and parent anxiety and parental control: a meta-analytic review."
Learning and Individual Differences: "Perception of parenting styles and academic achievement: The mediating role of goal orientations."
National Health Service: "Anxiety in children."
The Nemours Foundation: "Anxiety Disorders."
Psychiatry Research: "When somatization is not the only thing you suffer from: Examining comorbid syndromes using latent profile analysis, parenting practices and adolescent functioning."
StatPearls Publishing: "Types of Parenting Styles and Effects On Children."
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