By Kathryn Peck / Medically reviewed by Dr. Samantha Ball, DO
It’s true that kids don’t have to worry about mortgage payments, work deadlines, and putting food on the table like adults do. Me? I worry about overcommitting with kids’ activities, if we’re out of paper towels (again), dust bunnies the size of tennis balls, and larger-than-life trailer trucks that zip around me on the highway, all the while keeping my ducks in a row here at Bicycle Pie. (Ok, I do have some more significant worries.) Sometimes these things keep me up at night, but lately it’s my daughter who’s been overwhelmed with worries at night.
Age 7 seems too young to be anxious about things that are fundamentally out of one’s control. Yes, my daughter worries about being late for school in the morning and not having her schoolwork done exactly right (totally relatable), but she also worries about members of her family and about dying.
At first I chalked up these worries to the media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic; I assumed she, like all of us, was trying to process what was going on around her. Perhaps, but when it didn’t diminish over the course of a few weeks and when I realized that no matter what I said, my assurances didn’t help to alleviate her unease, I decided to speak with our pediatrician.
...When I realized that no matter what I said, my assurances didn’t help to alleviate her unease, I decided to speak with our pediatrician.
Turns out, mild cases of childhood anxiety are common. At the school age, however, it’s a more usual shift from monster-under-the-bed kind of worries that toddlers experience to more real-life worries.
Kids have different worries, and some more severe than others. My goal, in speaking with our pediatrician, was not to dismiss or eliminate my daughter’s fears (because that just wasn’t going to happen), but rather to respect her worries and help her manage them.
The toughest part for me? Figuring out what to say, particularly when it felt like déjà vu night after night. Our pediatrician recommended a set of activity cards: “Mindful Kids: 50 Mindfulness Activities for Kindness, Focus and Calm.” Every night we’d complete a card together. The cards introduced activities and exercises designed to underscore feelings of anxiety, ways to calm them, and turn one’s focus from negative feelings toward more positive ones.
The toughest part for me? Figuring out what to say, particularly when it felt like déjà vu night after night.
If you’ve got a worrisome little one at home, Dr. Samantha Ball, DO, pointed to a few books and resources that can help open up communication with your child about their worries:
“Fiona Flamingo” by Rachael Urrutia Chu. This book is a great start to talking about emotions and letting children know it is okay to be scared, angry, and sad at different times. It teaches children to accept their unique, special qualities.
“Right now, I am Fine” by Dr. Daniela Owen. This book is meant to uncover emotions and stress and has a few simple calming routines.
“Wemberly Worried” by Kevin Henkes. This one is a good book for those kids who worry about the first day of school (although Wemberly worries about everything). This book walks kids through how Wemberly overcomes her worries about the first day of school.
"There's an Alligator Under my Bed” by Mercer Mayer. Part of a larger series, this particular book is about a boy (or critter!) who overcomes his fears and helps kids think of ways they can overcome theirs.
“What To Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety” by Dawn Huebner. This is a workbook for parents to do with their children. This book teaches cognitive behavioral therapy used to treat generalized anxiety.
“CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) Workbook for Kids” by Heather Davidson. This has exercises and activities to help kids overcome anxiety and face their fears.
- “I Miss You: A First Look at Death” by Pat Thomas. This book teaches kids that grief and sense of loss are normal feelings. It talks about life and death in a non-religious way and has good questions towards the end that can help to get little ones talking about how they are feeling.
Dr. Ball also points to a website, Strong4Life, which is a great resource for tips and coping mechanisms families can use to tackle anxiety, grief, depression for all ages.
My daughter’s worries, like most children who experience mild anxieties, come and go. Of course, if you sense a child’s worry might be more excessive or affecting them in other ways, don’t hesitate to speak to your pediatrician about it. But the activity cards did help me to speak with my daughter more openly about her fears, and they helped me to encourage her in processing these feelings.
Please note: This is for educational and informational purposes only and is not meant to substitute individual medical advice. For specific and individual advice, always talk to your doctor.
About the author: Kathryn is the owner of Bicycle Pie and mom of 4 little ones. Also a writer, editor, and former owner of one of Boston's premiere baby boutiques, she continues to write about motherhood, children's products, family life, and all other things that test our skills and patience as parents.
About the reviewer: Dr. Samantha Ball, DO, is a pediatrician, cat mom, and advocate for children’s overall health and wellness. She is continually focused on supporting families through all stages in a realistic and evidence-based way. In addition to practicing medicine in Georgia, she shares experiences and her perspectives on topics including parenting tips, mental and physical health, and how to navigate the unexpected challenges that come about when raising kids.
Photo credit: iStock.com/fizkes