Most children will tell you exactly how they feel about pretty much everything, unless, of course, they fear retribution, punishment or rejection. Some unfortunate children have learned that they will be punished or ridiculed no matter what they do, so they learn to hide any perceived imperfection. Some children are natural perfectionists, especially first-borns, and they will automatically work hard to convince parents that everything is fine and under control, even when it isn’t.
There are tell-tale facial expressions and nervous tics that will help parents determine if their child is worried. The scrunched forehead is usually a clear indicator that your co-worker or spouse are worried, but children often don’t have the communication skills or the emotional maturity to restrain their choices so clearly.
Children worry about all sorts of things, real and imagined. The symptoms of worry can vary depending on age, level of concern and emotional maturity. Repeated sniffling, throat clearing, eye blinking, lip folding, head shaking or body writhing can all indicate that a young child is worried. Thumb sucking and nail-biting are common indicators that a child is experiencing something that stresses them. So, too, are bed rocking, bed wetting, nose picking, whining, nightmares, temper tantrums and, the ever popular, tummy ache. Very often, these tensional outlets are normal, natural, age-specific and will be out grown. Once seen as character flaws, child development experts now recognize these behaviors as the mechanisms a child uses to help themselves deal with stress.
As a parent who suspects their child is overly worried, you need to evaluate recent changes in your child’s life and your personal reactions to stress. Your child learns what they live. If they see you being overly stressed, overly worried or overly critical, they will behave in the same way. If you cultivate calm assurance, your child will be better able to handle and more protected from whatever concerns them. Open channels of communication will also help your child deal with their fears, worries and stressful unknowns.
Ask your child open-ended questions about how they feel about recent changes, new friends or experiences and whatever else you suspect may be causing them to worry. Do not assume you know what is bothering them. Surviving a house fire, the parent can assume it was the stress of the destruction causing the child’s worry when, in fact, the child is concerned about their first loose tooth. Help your child understand that life is full of changes and losses that are balanced with friends, family, accomplishments and wonderful surprises. Help them use their worries to build a wider, more stable perspective.