Anxiety is fear that is stuck. Physically, it seems to uncomfortably occupy the throat, chest, or gut. All sorts of things can make children anxious: a change of schools, a change of grade in a school, a new teacher, a friend moving, a friend mad, divorce, and death to name a few. Anxiety in children is related to excessive fear and worry devloping from both temperament and environmental factors.
Children may need help to get stuck fearful feelings out of their system. Some children can relieve their anxiety by talking about what is worrying them. More commonly, children release their anxiety by playing it out. Many children will bring fear and anxiety into their play without any prompting from a parent because they actually want to master their own fear. Other children may need an invitation of sorts to address worries, and a few children may have anxiety so prolonged and intense that professional assistance should be sought.
As you watch children play, you may hear and see them interacting with a fantasy character who runs into trouble and is rescued, over and over again. Children may spend long hours designing or building invincible fortresses or spaceships that symbolically protect them from harm. Even dolls can provide a child with release. Young children may whisper their worries to their dolls, which acts as an anxiety-reducing measure partway between talking out and playing out their fears.
Artistic expression is another great way for children to release anxiety and fear. Artistic expression includes singing, drawing, dancing, sculpting, or writing. As a parent, you can nudge the release of anxiety and fear by asking questions and nudging expression. “I wonder what that knot in your throat would say if it had a voice?” “Can you draw a picture of that scary monster from your nightmare last night?” “Let’s pretend we are going to the doctor’s office.”
Certainly, we want to protect our children from real threats to their safety. We cannot, however, protect our children from every hurt and danger—nor do we want to. We need to help them learn strength, confidence, connection with others, and the skills that will help them make decisions, cope with hurts, and grow from the hurts. Parents can help build resiliency in their child to prevent normal anxiety from developing into an ongoing condition that impairs the child’s ability to enjoy life. Play, creativity, and fantasy are great ways to help children do this.