"My 8-year-old child seems to suffer from anxiety or panic attacks. We are a relatively normal family. He has always been a somewhat anxious child but these anxiety attacks are more frequent in the morning before going to school or when my husband and myself have to go out at night. What might be going on?"
Very often people will say of a child “he or she is just looking for attention”. I have rarely found this to be the case. More often than not the child has no interest in attention, but rather is looking for control and influence. You will typically find that the child who is supposedly looking for attention is in fact getting an abundance of it.
A fascinating thing about anxiety and panic for children is that very often, though not always, they are really mechanisms to establish and assess control in certain relationships. The child is often assessing both his own self-control and his parents control over him. Many a parent will be flabbergasted to see their school-phobic child trot off happily to school when a grandmother or auntie is minding him! This is because that mechanism of assessing CONTROL is not established with the minder.
As I indicated above, a child may have too much control and influence or too little. Often a child is well able to manage his or her anxiety but provokes and tests the parent’s ability to recognise it. The over-anxious parent will find it hard to do this, and so the child displays even more anxiety. You will rarely find an anxious child with an under-involved parent because those children quickly learn to manage themselves because they are left to themselves. Invariably, the parent is on the side of being over-involved or over-concerned, which can create a merry-go-round of anxiety. Sometimes a child needs to be held and encouraged and loved. Other times he needs a tough-loving coach who kicks him onto the field, knowing he can do it.
Dr. Colm O'Connor is a Cork Psychologist. He has written hundreds of articles on family psychology - some posted here.