Q+A: I Struggle with Anxiety and See It in My 7-Year Old. I’m Worried – What Should I Do?

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Posted in: Grade School, Parenting Concerns

Topics: Anxiety, Q+A

Question: I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life and now I see my seven-year-old son struggle with it too. I’m worried about his future. Do you have any advice?

Answer: It can be discouraging for many parents who struggled for years to overcome their own issues of anxiety, depression, or learning disabilities only to find similar issues in their child. It can be frightening if a father observed his own mother experience bouts of depression, and common for him to worry that a diagnosis of depression in his daughter will mean that she will turn out “just like Grandma.” I frequently counsel parents not to assume it will be the same for their child as it might have been for them or another family member. I would say the same to you and your son.

Remember: Biology isn’t destiny. Furthermore, most of us (and particularly our parents) grew up in a time when little was known about psychological disorders. Many people who needed services never got the diagnosis they needed, and if they did, the treatments were few and possibly unsubstantiated. While there is more to be researched and discovered, we know vastly more about childhood mental health and disorders than we did a generation ago. With the right treatment, even if a child’s depression does seem “just like Grandma’s,” the course of the depression can be dramatically different from Grandma’s due to treatments that unfortunately weren’t available in the past.

In my experience, parents in this situation often to fall into two camps. They either tend to: 1) ignore the problem until it’s too late, or 2) become overly anxious long before they need to, or at an intensity that is unwarranted based on the facts. Neither of these reactions is beneficial.

You sound like you’ve got an attitude that is right in the middle: You’re looking at this realistically and realize that there are some possible challenges ahead. The best course of action is to know your family’s genetic history without overanalyzing or overreacting to every possible problem, and to seek a consultation when you have significant concerns that don’t go away.

Do you have a question of your own that you’d like one of our docs to answer? Write to us! We may include your question in our next Clay Center Q+A.

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Ellen Braaten, PhD

Ellen Braaten, PhD

Ellen Braaten, PhD, is executive director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) at  Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), an associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, and former co-director for the MGH Clay Cente...

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