Friday, December 12, 2014

Anxiety and the School Age Child

     Anxiety in children is common and can at times, be very difficult for families to navigate.  As adults, we often believe children should be at a worry-free stage in their life where they can make friends, negotiate play and relationships, and just simply enjoy school.  With the ever increasing demands of academic rigor as well as numerous extra-curricular activities, it's no wonder some of our children experience some social emotional difficulty as a result.  
     Recently, I happened upon an interesting article endorsed by the National Association of School Psychologists on anxiety in children.  I have provided some of the highlights of the article below.  
     Huberty defines anxiety as: "Apprehension or excessive fear about real or imagined circumstances. The central characteristic of anxiety is worry, which is excessive concern about situations with uncertain outcomes. Excessive worry is unproductive, because it may interfere with the ability to take action to solve a problem. Symptoms of anxiety may be reflected in thinking, behavior, or physical reactions (2004)."
     Anxiety affects people of all ages and can manifest itself in different ways depending on the individual and their specific circumstance.  In order to understand anxiety, it is important to recognize the developmental stages in which anxiety is considered a developmentally appropriate part of growth.  The following table contains data adapted from the aforementioned article by Huberty (2004).

Child’s Age
Type of Anxiety Observed in Children of Typical Development
Seven to Nine Months
Stranger Anxiety - Where the child is observed as becoming upset in the presence of a lesser known adult.
12 to 18 Months (usually resolved by age 2)
Separation Anxiety - Where the child will become upset when the parent leaves, if even for a short while.
Preschool (Ages 3-4)
Fear of more concrete subjects such as: animals, the dark, imaginary figures (monsters under their beds), older children and adults.
School age (8 to 11)
Fear of more abstract topics such as: grades, peer reactions, coping with a new school, and having friends.

     When anxious symptoms become a regular pattern, are experienced at less developmentally appropriate stages, and are affecting our children in various areas of their lives (school, home, relationships etc), it is important to access support from your school social worker and/or your outside supports (such as a pediatrician or other community mental health professional).  Please don't hesitate to contact your school social worker or community mental health professional if you are seeing a long term pattern of one or more the following behaviors (adapted from

1) School refusal/resistance 
2) Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, such as headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, or tiredness. Their worries might cause them to miss school or avoid social activities. 
3) Excessive preoccupying thoughts about school, the health and safety of self or family.
4) Difficulty socializing with peers or speaking in front of a group due to the feeling of intense fear.
5) Panic attacks - sudden and intense physical symptoms that can include a pounding heart, shortness of breath, dizziness, numbness, or tingling feelings.

6) Post Traumatic Stress - Recurrent nightmares, flashbacks and/or avoidance of traumatic events that cause initial anxiety. 

For full access to these articles please visit 

For additional information on how to help your child conquer worry please visit 

Thank you! 
Mrs. Impastato

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