When does anxiety become a problem?


Anxiety is a normal emotion that helps keep us safe and motivated. It reminds us to hold on tight when we are on a scary ride and also sends the message that we should study a little harder before our next big test. In these ways, anxiety can actually help us! However, there is a “sweet spot” for the level of anxiety we experience. Too little anxiety can lead to risky, irresponsible behavior, but too much can be very distressing. How do you know if your child has passed that middle ground where anxiety is no longer helpful and is now problematic?

When it stops your child from having fun.
Does your child avoid going to certain places or trying new things? Some kids may avoid trying new activities because they are afraid of not being good at it, concerned about being embarrassed or maybe just uncomfortable with the uncertainty of what will happen. This avoidance limits your child’s ability to enjoy different, fun activities, to discover new interests and to enjoy interacting with their peers.

When it impacts your child’s ability to learn.
Anxious kids often fly under the teacher’s radar because they may be well-behaved, conscientious students. While some anxiety helps encourage kids to study and complete their schoolwork, too much can have the opposite effect and make it hard to concentrate or complete tasks. If your child spends an excessive amount of time trying to complete every assignment perfectly or studying late at night for a small, weekly quiz, this may actually hurt their learning! Some kids may even feel so nervous or overwhelmed by school-related anxiety (such as on the day of a test or a presentation) that they try to stay home from school. If anxiety prevents your child from going to school, it may be time to seek help.

When it is difficult to control.
Does it seem as if once your child starts worrying or feeling anxious, they cannot stop? When anxiety feels uncontrollable, kids often have trouble relaxing or concentrating on other things because they simply cannot get their mind off of their anxiety. You might notice this if your child frequently asks for reassurance. Bedtime can also be a particularly difficult time for kids who have trouble controlling their anxiety because their worries run through their mind when trying to fall asleep. As a result, children might resist going to bed or sleeping alone.

In sum, anxiety becomes a problem when it is excessive, distressing and interfering.
As a parent, it can be difficult to find a balance between protecting and nurturing children and pushing them to face their fears. The good news is there are plenty of ways to help! Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered the best treatment for addressing anxiety and can help your family understand how to conquer excessive anxiety. CBT helps children gradually increase their brave behaviors and learn coping skills to deal with anxious feelings. For more information, refer to Texas Children’s Psychology Services.



About Michelle Clementi, psychology extern

I'm a psychology extern at the Texas Children's Hospital Main Campus and a member of an interdisciplinary working group tasked with improving behavioral health programming within the Texas Children's Cancer and Hematology Centers. I'm completing my Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Houston where I conduct research in the Sleep and Anxiety Center of Houston.
Posted in Developmental Pediatrics, Parenting, Psychology

One Response to When does anxiety become a problem?

  1. Waheeda says:

    Hi, I’m from south Africa and my daughter is 10 years old dignosed with extreme depression and anxiety; she is a bright child and has excelled academically but in the last month she just hates school and has been off for a month and breaks down and cries. She also gets very angry, she’s on meds but it’s really not getting any better. What is cognitive behavioural therapy and what can I do as I’m a single mom


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