Why is My Child So Anxious?

Many parents wonder, why is my child so anxious?

They might ask themselves questions such as:

  • Did I do something wrong?

  • Have I not been a sensitive enough parent?

  • Or, geez, maybe I’ve been too sensitive?

  • Man, am I one of those helicopter parents?

  • Or maybe it’s my genetics.  I mean, my mom was anxious, her mom was anxious…

  • Mmmm maybe I should have eaten more vegetables while I was pregnant...or maybe it was those coffees I drank...

  • Or gosh, could something have happened to my child that I don’t even know about?

  • Or could it have been that mean preschool teacher?

  • Or those scary news stories she saw?

  • Or that time he sprained his ankle and had to use crutches?

And on and on and on with...

Why?  Why?  Why?


Chasing the Why of anxiety

Speaking of why, why do we feel so compelled to chase the why anyway?

Well, I’ve got some thoughts about that...

We humans really just like to know.

We love to ask questions and find the answers to them.

I mean, really, have you been around any four-year-olds lately?

They want to know...they want to know why...

And the more we care about something, the more questions we ask and the more definitive we want our answers to be.

And that is the very reason why our anxiety zooms in on what we care most about.

Anxiety and its never ending Quest For Certainty

Perhaps our strong desire to find the why is rooted in our existential anxiety.

I mean, as far as we know, other animals are not aware of their inevitable and eventual demise.

In fact, we humans have a long history of trying to answer the big unanswerable questions.

Through the millenniums, we have even built complex systems to attempt to do just that.

And in many cultures people who have been unable to agree on their culture’s sanctioned why/s have even been killed or made to suffer horribly.

And this can still happen in our modern times.

Anxiety’s demand for certainty can wreak havoc both on the individual and the societal level.

So, anxiety continues to prey on our extreme discomfort with uncertainty...

And if we are okay with uncertainty, we’ve won half the battle.

Anxiety’s Maze of Pathways

But, let’s return to the why of child anxiety.

Our child’s level of anxiety is based on a complex maze of interlocking pathways that are impossible to tease apart.

These pathways include our child’s life events, genetics, temperament, biology, and home, school, community, and world environment.

So, those are a lot of whys to contemplate.

And embedded in all of those whys are a lot of unanswerable questions.

So, trying to decipher the why of our child’s heightened anxiety is usually a zero-sum game...

That serves more as a distractor than a beneficial exercise.

The more useful thing to focus on is anxiety’s negative impact on your child and what can be done about it…however it came to be…

How can we take constructive, concrete action to help children manage their anxiety?  

And, thankfully, that is an answerable question.

Some Anxiety Pathways are worth exploring

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we should not investigate some of anxiety’s pathways.

Case in point, most of us are familiar with that proverbial nature versus nurture debate.

And in the world of anxiety treatment, this debate has pretty much been settled...and the winner is both nature and nurture.

Albeit the focus of child anxiety treatment is on the nurture side because that’s the side we have the most control over.

So, it is very important to look at the patterns of all of the key people in your child’s life, including yourself, that may be unintentionally serving to enable, contribute to, or maintain your child’s anxiety...

Most likely such patterns will exist because raising an anxious child can often be confusing and counterintuitive. Some intuitively loving ways of parenting can paradoxically feed into child anxiety.


Anxiety’s Pals

And there are certainly other predisposing, precipitating, or maintaining factors that can be very important to explore.

For example, if you suspect your child has a learning, speech, auditory, sensory, or neurological/developmental issue, I would encourage you to get it checked out... through your school or by someone who specializes in the corresponding area.

Those issues require their own treatment and management.

But, they frequently like to hang out with anxiety and vice-versa…

They can certainly contribute to, feed into, complicate, and exacerbate your child’s anxiety.

So, again, if you suspect any of these issues, they should definitely be checked out.

But, again, no single why is likely to be that silver bullet answer when it comes to anxiety disorders.

And merely knowing the why still doesn’t offer us a solution...the how.

Because even if we somehow knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the exact reasons that led to your child’s anxiety, the next step would still be, okay what are we going to do about it?

Feeling Anxious is normal

Now there’s probably not a person in the world who can’t find a valid reason to feel anxious.

In any given moment, any one of us can easily choose to focus on something anxiety provoking.

There’s an ever-infinite number of triggers to choose from.

All we need to do is read or hear the news...

Or pull out the “big gun” and remember that we, and those we love the most, are all headed for...well elsewhere...however we may (or may not) envision that.

Anxiety provoking events are woven into our world.

 Just as sure as anxiety is woven into our very biology.

And thank goodness because that is the very reason we are alive and thriving as a species.

Due to our anxiety, we have the foresight to stop at that red-light...to look both ways before we cross the street...to not walk into an unknown dark alley late at night…or anytime really.

And why do you think your child studied for that spelling test in lieu of doing something much more fun?

Our anxiety tempers our judgment, helping us to mitigate the dangers of the world and strive for advancement personally and collectively.

So, our child cannot and should not get rid of his or her anxiety.

And if anyone tells you that your child can be “anxiety free”, run for the hills.

They are either delusional or they are hucksters trying to sell you their slickly packaged snake oil.

And as we know, such claims, with their corresponding sales gimmicks, are all over the Internet.

 the One certain why of anxiety

So, the only why we can be certain about is that anxiety is a natural part of being human.

This is the why that normalizes anxiety for your child.

Our children should expect to have anxious feelings.

It is what they choose to do with those feelings, not their existence, that can turn problematic.

And this is also the why that can facilitate the move to the how…

The good news is with knowledge, skill building, and effort (the how), your child can learn to navigate through anxiety in a healthy way...

To not let it stop them from doing the normal everyday things that other kids do.

And, fortunately, to do that, it doesn’t involve answering unanswerable why questions...interesting as we humans might find them!


Helping Anxious Kids is here to support your family.  If you are seeking anxiety treatment for your child and my approach resonates with you, schedule an appointment today.