What is worry?

Everyone worries it’s a natural normal human response to everyday life. Worry is what happens when your mind dwells on negative thoughts, uncertain outcomes or things that could go wrong. A worry is usually isolated and focused on one negative thought. Did you know that at least 38% of the population worry at least once a day? 

How do you identify worries?

They have a tendency to be about future and past events so, things that might or might not happen.
‘If I go out to the shop's everyone will be looking as me’ however they can also be linked to should’ve & could’ve which are linked to past events too.
‘I should have said this instead because they are thinking ……. of me now’
They’re normally a ‘what if’ statement.
‘What if I ask for it and I get it wrong and they all end up laughing at me’
They’re usually longwinded statements.
 ‘What I go there tomorrow and I get all embarrassed make myself look stupid and make a fool of myself’

How is worry different to anxiety?

Many people use the words stress, worry and anxiety interchangeably and to be fair they’re all very closely linked. I do feel it’s important to separate them out as worry is normally the catalysed too escalating into feelings of anxiety.

A worry is usually focused on one specific and isolated issue whereas anxiety is more general and encompassing. Repeatedly dwelling on a worry, escalates it in our minds and it can become like a snowball picking up additional worries on its way downhill. If the worry is not then met with a solution it can become unmanageable. We self orchestrate the worry into anxiety.

Anxiety is more general and consuming and is often without context. Anxiety often has physical as well as mental impact on the child, physical symptoms include stomach cramps, headaches, racing heart, shortness of breath, nausea, being sick and headaches. 


What do children worry about?

It's important to remember that children worry about things that may not seem big to us, however, they are significant to them. Such as ‘Lucy doesn’t want to be my friend anymore’ or ‘I’m not going to be picked for the team’.

Young children do not have a concept of time and future, therefore, they experience their current situation and thoughts as being constant this magnifies the intensity of their feelings. For example, if Lucy says she no longer wants to be friends with Masie, Masie will believe this will be the end of their friendship and the feelings she is experiencing in the present will be forever. 

The type of worries a child experiences are dependent upon a number of factors, their life experience, their temperament and their age, which I go into more detail on below. 

At what age do children start worrying?
  • Children can start worrying from as young as 6 months with the fear of separation from their main caregiver and they will physically show fear of loud noises
  • By the time they reach 12 months they form stronger attachments to the people they know and can often display fear of strangers. Large objects can also become a source of worry for children at this age.
  • Between 1 - 2 years, their experience of cause and effect is developing and so is their fear of getting hurt.
  • As a child hits 2 years old they often expand their fear of large objects into a fear of animals. Routine becomes a big part of their normality and changes to this routine can become unsettling and can cause worry. It is usually at the age of 2 that children begin to be worried about the dark, it is said that using night lights from birth reduces the chances of this worry.
  • Between the age of 3 and 4 years old, a child experiences magical thinking making it hard for them to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Their dreams become more vivid which is often where scary dreams come from and feed into their worry about the dark. Children may start to talk about monsters, it is important not to dismiss their worry instead you can explore their thoughts and put coping strategies in place. Bringing fun to the conversation, using dream catchers and monster repellant, allows you to enter your child world rather than dismiss a thought they believe to be true.
  •  Monsters move into the supernatural with ghosts and witches becoming something 5 - 6-year-olds are more likely to worry about. Often at this age children imagine that bad things will happen but the thoughts are not reality-based. They often fear being on their own either to go to sleep or even when they are playing. Children develop a fear of thunder and lightening at this age.
  • Children become aware of death and loss between the ages of 7 and 8 years old which often builds on the fear of parents leaving them alone.
  • Exams and school pressures become the main source of worry for 9 to 12-year-olds as well as their physical appearance. Friendships and fitting in are also very worrying for children of this age.
  • For teens, they continue to worry about physical appearance and friendships but also worry about relationships with the opposite sex and how they are perceived. School, academic ability and exam results cause worry for the majority of teens.
Are some children more susceptible to worry than others?

Yes different temperaments and personalities lend themselves to being a person that might worry more than others. Introverts and people pleasers often experience more worries as do perfectionists and over thinkers. 

Worries can be inherited by children witnessing their parents or caregivers specific worries and mimicking unconsciously. Often an adult will not realise they are exhibiting their worries. Self-awareness is important with worry as it allows you to be conscious of your behaviour and actively find solutions.  Children can also take on the worries of their friends and peers, often find other peoples worries easier to talk about. 

How can adults manage a child's worry?

Our job as adults is to help children learn how to manage the normal stress of everyday life and find strategies that work for them.  It is good to find the time to talk and listen to their worries. What you’ll find is they won’t always openly talk to you so it’s important to notice when they seem different to their normal selves. Talking can be difficult for all of us, however, a great technique to use is talking and drawing. It is not only relaxing but it allows children to explore their worries freely and without pressure.  It is as simple as taking a piece of blank paper and a box of colouring pens and starting to draw, at the same time you talk openly about what is going on for them. This eases worry, anxiety and stress and enables a deeper form of communication to occur.  Drawing provides a distraction and allows them to process their feelings. 

When communicating with children and young people about their worries it’s important to help them;

  • Normalise feelings of worry
  • Gain an accurate and realistic understanding of their feelings
  • Identify easy and practical solutions for managing worry

Worry Workbook

Download our worry workbook which encourages children to reflect and investigate their worries. 

  • My Worry Monsters
  • Be a Worry Detective
  • The Worry Catcher
  • Your Worry Warrior Shield
  • Manage your Worry Monsters

Download our worry workbook which encourages children to reflect and investigate their worries.

View Resource

Worry Workbook

How do you normalise feelings of worry?

It’s so important not to dismiss your children worries by saying things like ‘you’ll be fine’, ‘stop worrying’ ‘don’t be stupid'. An element of easing their worry is to normalise and validate their feelings by saying:

  • "It's ok to be worried."
  • "I remember when I was your age I used to worry about?"
  • "When I’m worried I feel ….."
  • "My body reacts by……"
  • "Some days I don’t know why I feel so worried"
  • "I think it’s so normal to feel worried about things as it shows you care and you can empathise with others feelings." 

A final note from our therapist

As a child grows up their worries will change and they will need to navigate their way through with various coping strategies. It is important for them to have an outlet for expressing their fears and worries with the help of supportive adults. Worrying is a part of everyday life however, it can be managed and minimised so it doesn't escalate out of control and manifest into anxiety. Often people sit with worry as they feel powerless or think it is necessary, however when you realise that worry is in fact the problem and not the solution it puts you back in a position of control. 

Download our worry workbook which encourages children to reflect and investigate their worries.

View Resource

Worry Workbook

This resource helps a child explore their worry monsters giving them an avenue to express and understand their feelings

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My Worry Monsters

To become a worry detective by investigating your worry, is there more evidence to prove your worry to be true or false?

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Be a Worry Detective

When you feel worried about something there are a number of ways you can make yourself feel better which we outline in this activity.

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Manage your Worry Monsters