Anxiety Causes: What's Making My Child Anxious?

08/04/2011 07:18 am ET | Updated Oct 04, 2011

That's my million-dollar question: What makes a child anxious?

Because really, all children experience anxiety in one form or another, right? Anxiety in children, to some degree, is normal and a part of growing up. My 3-year-old still screams whenever I hand him to a babysitter and my kindergartner always sleeps with the lights on because he's afraid of the dark.

It's not big deal. These anxieties are fairly routine and, luckily, they can usually outgrow these fears in time without too much trouble.

Then there are the children who experience anxiety that doesn't seem to go away. I'm talking about anxiety and worries that begin to interfere with the child's usual activities, like going to school or playing with friends.

My son has struggled with both. Another way my son's anxiety shows up is at dinner time. My son develops a stomach ache at approximately 3 p.m. pretty much every day. It makes dinner time extremely stressful for all of us, because by the time dinner rolls around he's so stressed out that he's incapable of sitting down and eating a meal.

I wonder all the time about the causes of my son's anxiety. I worry that somehow I did something to make him feel the way he does.

A lot.

There! You see that? I just admitted that I worry a lot, too. Now that it's out there I will also admit I probably worry more than I should. Is it my fault that my child is anxious? I hope not. I don't think so -- but if it's not me, what is making my child anxious?
I'm slightly relieved that there is no single cause of anxiety in children. Rather, anxiety is more likely caused by a number of factors that include a combination of a child's genetics and their environment.

If you have a family history of anxiety, it's more likely that your child will have it as well. You can't fight genetics. I don't know that many people on my family tree were officially diagnosed with having anxiety, but if I listen to some of the stories I've heard growing up, it's pretty clear that I come from a long line of worry-warts.

So I may joke about it, but I know that about myself, and as my son has gotten older and his anxious behaviors have become more evident I've taken a lot of care to keep my own fears and anxieties quiet around him. If kids grow up in a family where they see worrying as a way of coping with life, it can teach them to be anxious.

One strategy I've tried to teach my son is to consider whether or not the things that are upsetting him are in his control or out of his control.

I know I won't ever really know what's causing my son's anxiety and I can't control it. I accept him and I love his nervous, little-boy self like crazy. Then I worry about him quietly after he goes to bed.

Amy Jo Jones lives and plays in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her husband and her two sons. She writes about it all on her personal blog, Binkytowne.