“I don’t want to grow up.” My six-year-old niece held fast to that phrase throughout her toddler and preschool years. Any mention of becoming taller or stronger sent her into a near panic, and she was quick to dismiss any comment about her future. She even resisted developmental milestones, hoping that she could stay little forever if she didn’t do them. She marched to the tune of Peter Pan’s words, “I won’t grow up, I won’t grow up … Not I, not me!” Her anxiety told her it was safer if she stayed little forever.
Anxiety is defined as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” For some of us, it shows up in our minds, an unchecked worry that makes its way from the head to the heart. For others, it shows up in our bodies through a racing heart or tightening muscles. Anxiety appears in many different shapes and sizes and doesn’t wait to come knocking until we’re grown.
If you or your child are experiencing anxiety, you aren’t alone. According to the World Health Organization, anxiety, and depression have increased by over 50% between 1990 and 2013. And today’s kids and teens are experiencing anxiety in ways they never have before, with 70% of teens saying that anxiety is a significant problem among their peers.
While anxiety is related to fear, it’s not the same. Fear sees a threat and reacts, but anxiety imagines a threat and gets stuck. There’s no one way your child may be experiencing anxiety. Sometimes it’s in the form of a phobia (fear of a specific thing like spiders), or it can look like general fear of the future, panic attacks, social anxiety, or separation anxiety. It may impact one part of life or be overarching over all areas of life.
To guide your child through their anxiety, don’t forget to work through your own anxieties, too. You don’t have to have it all together to reveal God’s truth as you share your experience with them.
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