Can 7-Year-Olds Have Anxiety?

by Kerri

My 7 year old girl has what seems to be panic attacks. She fears everything, death, Hell, the dark, ghosts, being alone, going upstairs by herself... she cries uncontrollably and wants constant hugs and needs desperately to be held when her episodes occur. It's almost impossible to get her to sleep in her own bed when this happens at night.

She is a very intelligent child. Walked at 7 mo, tied her shoes at 3 1/2 years, rode a bike w/o training wheels at 4. She prefers classical music and the ballet. She asks questions about things children don't ask, things that would worry an adult. She wonders about hospitals and how she could help people if they are sick. She had a lemonade stand over the summer and donated the profits to Riley Children Hospital. She donated her first haircut last month to Locks of Love. And she does this all on her own. She tells us this is what she wants to do. She fears the paranormal, and spirits and ghosts. She would rather watch The Discovery channel (Myth Busters is a fave of hers) over cartoons. But she is afraid. She has her set night time routine. Her closet light must be on, door wide open, hall light on, and twinkle twinkle must be sung or she gets herself all worked up. She worries about family members and her friends, and getting her homework done on time, and if her pants match her shirt...etc. She fears a great deal of the world for a 7 year old, yet it seems she thinks like an adult. Is is possible for a 7 year old second grader to have what seems to me as such severe anxiety?

Ben's Answer:

It is absolutely possible for a 7 year old to have severe anxiety (I have one of my own). Your daughter sounds like a very gifted and very sensitive person. There are many possible reasons for her anxiety, which I really can't guess at here. But I will say that in my opinion, most schools put too much pressure on kids at too young an age. At 7 a child is just nearing the end of a long age of innocence and play - yet in school there is very little play and creativity, and ever increasing homework, pressure to perform and keep up and grow up fast.

There is also a lot of evidence to show that TV activates the emotional center of the brain - basically bypasses the normal conscious mind and creates an intense stimulated state. It's not even about the content of the program, but the actual hypnotic effect of the images on the screen.

As for content, even educational programs can be too much information. For an especially sensitive and wise child, learning too much too soon about the suffering of the world can create tremendous anxiety. Kids would be far calmer and more emotionally stable if they spent their free time staring out the window daydreaming, climbing trees and playing in the mud. (I'm not presuming that you don't share any of these ideas - just giving my views on child development).

When a child is crying out for security - it's important to find ways - with healthy boundaries - to give it. Even if it means sleeping with her for a period of time, or finding other creative ways to comfort her and make her feel safe and secure in the world. It is extremely important. It sounds like she's already acting like a little adult in many ways, and the child that she still is really needs to be babied so that she can learn to grow up at her own pace, and in her own way.

Our school systems and the media are creating lots and lots of kids that will be needing therapy as adults, unless we can offset the pressures by providing more of a refuge for them to grow up at their own natural pace, with respect to their innocence.

Beyond your own love and presence - which are obviously there - it may be helpful for her to see a child therapist. EFT is another wonderful thing for kids that I highly recommend, and I use with my own children on a regular basis. It can be very empowering, and very effective for fears and phobias.

Best wishes,

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