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Think back over the school year: how many days did your child miss because he started the morning with a tummy ache or headache that evaporated as soon as you agreed to keep him home? How many days did you insist your child go to school despite her complaint of not feeling well, only to discover that her day went fine once she got there?

Anxiety can tie a stomach into knots, cause a head to pound, even create diarrhea, vomiting, and light-headedness. Although the school year is nearly done, the prospect of anxiety-induced illness continues, looming over summer camp and other stressful activities. If anxiety is making your child sick, what can you do?

According to child psychologist Golda Ginsburg of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, anxious children often have anxious parents. In fact, anxious parents are more likely – two to seven times more likely – to have anxious children. Part of this may be inherited temperament but Ginsburg believes that a lot of childhood anxiety is learned. Parents who are fearful, who encourage their children to be extra cautious, and who hover over them in a worried way communicate to their kids that the world is dangerous. No wonder these kids want to stay safe in bed!

Of course, we worry about the dangers toddlers can get into and we’re constantly on the lookout for dangerous situations. But as kids get older, parents need to lighten up. They need to permit children to handle things on their own and build up confidence in themselves. Small, planned exercises in self-reliance are important to children’s development.

At the same time, sometimes children are placed in situations that are too competitive, too stressful, and too frightening. A coach who yells and is mean is scary no matter how good a coach you think he is. A teacher who is demanding and unhelpful creates stress even if the class has great test scores. A parent who insists on perfection from a child undermines the love between them and causes stress. It’s difficult, sometimes, to see a situation from the child’s point of view. A child is not being soft or lazy if he complains about being under too great a strain. What seems un-stressful to you may provoke an anxiety attack in your child.

If your child seems to be letting anxiety make her sick, what can you do? Here are some tips.

  1. Talk it over later. You might keep your child home when she’s anxiously ill or you might send her off and hope she makes it through the day. Whatever you choose, at the end of the day, when things are calmer, ask about it. Remind her that she was feeling sick but then got to feeling much better. Ask if there was something about the day that made her worried. Find out what was going on, at a time after the matter is settled.
  2. Normalize fear. Never tell a child “you’re not afraid of something like that!” or “only a baby would be afraid of that!” If a child is afraid, he’s afraid. Let him say so without being criticized for it.
  3. Be matter-of-fact. When your child says he’s feeling nervous, talk about that. Accept what he’s saying. But don’t make it your problem. Being worried is part of living an interesting life. Ask, “what’s the worst that could happen?” and talk about how he would manage “the worst.”
  4. Mention it when you feel anxious or afraid. Children think that adults are always in control. When you’re feeling worried or nervous, especially about doing something new, say so. Let your child encourage you. Let her see that being anxious isn’t a reason to stop trying.
  5. Manage your own worries. Don’t hover too much or let your child see you hovering over him. Don’t text him every other minute when he’s away. If you tend to be a worrier, don’t infect your child with your anxiety.

As children grow in self-confidence and experience, they are less likely to feel so overmatched by the day’s prospects that they make themselves sick with worry. Giving them the support and skills to manage themselves is a good thing to do.



© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Join Dr. Anderson in an online conference for teachers and parents. Find out more at Quality Conference for Early Childhood Leaders.

The prospect of a no-kids week in the summer might have you hurrying to find a sleep-away slot for your child. Or your child might already be part of a Scout troop or other group that includes a summer sleep-away camping opportunity. Maybe the family of your child’s best friend has offered to include him in their vacation this year.

But you hesitate. How can you tell if your child is ready?

A quick rule-of-thumb is age. A week away from home is often too much to manage for kids younger than nine, unless the excursion is with a grandparent or someone else that’s family or as-good-as-family. Nine-year-olds have enough experience under their belts to adapt to most situations and they understand their own feelings well enough to soothe the inevitable homesickness. They have a good command of time and can tell “how long there is left to go” before the vacation comes to an end.

A second consideration is experience: has your child slept over at a friend’s house without problems? Is your child able to handle her affairs without her parents around, can she adapt to another set of rules and customs, and can she sleep in a strange bed without tears? A child who has never slept over at the home of a friend might find sleep-away camp too big a leap this summer.

Third, is the camp you’re thinking of a good fit for your child? If your kid is a bold adventurer eager for a challenge, he might love to rough it in the wilderness. But if your child likes his creature-comforts, enrolling him in a rugged experience “for his own good” is unlikely to make him a happy camper. There is a wide range of camps, suiting kids of every taste. And every camp – even one that seemingly presents little challenge – will stretch your child and teach him new things. Try to find a camp that will make your child happy.

Fourth, does your child want to go? If your child is dead-set against sleep-away camp then there is little to be accomplished by forcing her to go. Of course, as soon as you sign up your child, she will experience “buyer’s remorse.” Cold feet are to be expected and usually are not a reason to withdraw. But if sleep-away camp is the last thing your child wants this summer, then see what other options are open that she’ll find more acceptable.

Finally, are you ready? Can you be happy without knowing what your child is doing every minute of the day? Can you survive without knowing if he’s eating well or sleeping well and if the other kids are being nice to him? It goes without saying that you’ll choose a camp wisely. A good camp that’s well supervised and fun can create wonderful memories and a wish to return next year. But the other secret to a great camp experience is the readiness of the child and his parents. Sleep-away camp is a big step, a rite of passage.

If both of you are ready, then sleep-away camp can be a summer treat for the whole family.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson.  All rights reserved.

Now is the time to make some decisions to keep the kiddos busy and safe when school is out.

According to a survey from the American Express Spending and Saving Tracker, last year U. S. families spent an average of $856 per child on summer activities. Two kids? That’s over $1700. And that was last year. Last year’s expenditures were up 40% over the previous year. If this summer is also up by the same amount – 40% – you can expect to pay, on average, about $1200, per child.

That’s about $400 per month in June, July and August. About $100 per week. Not exorbitant by any means – what would you charge to watch a group of seven-year-olds for 10 hours a day every Monday-through-Friday? In fact, you certainly could find programs that cost a whole lot more. But when you see the entire cost for even an inexpensive summer all upfront as a lump sum, and then multiplied by the number of children in your household, that cost represents a real hit to your budget.

That’s assuming you can find suitable activities for your kids. If you’ve already reserved your children’s summer camp slots, you’re not worried. But if you haven’t got things line up yet, realize that your options are shrinking fast. Let’s think about this, right now.

You and your children have several broad choices.

What to choose?

Face the fact that each of these costs about the same. If you stay home with your children, you are “paying” whatever wages you lose by not working full time yourself, as well as paying the incidental costs of fun activities. Paying a babysitter frees you up to go to work, but incurs costs for the sitter as well as for those fun activities fees. Paying for organized away-from-home activities seems the most expensive on paper, but that’s because all the costs are visible up-front. Camp experiences, especially day-camps that are in your own town and run by your local park district or YMCA, may actually be more cost-effective than they first appear.

So your choice is less an economic one than one of safety and suitability for your child.

Safety should be your Number One consideration. Whether you choose an in-home sitter or a park district day camp, make certain that the people who actually interact with your children are well-trained, mature, and experienced. Often “camp counselors” are teens not much older than your kids, are paid just minimum wage, and are quite variable in their ability to see dangerous situations, intervene in cases of bullying and intimidation, and manage individual issues as they come up. You can luck out and get a real gem of a camp counselor or in-home babysitter, or you can wind up with a situation that creates real headaches, for you and your children.

Do your due diligence. Check things out. Ask for references and call them before you choose. And act quickly. The best-run programs and the best babysitters will be booked solid soon.

Second to safety but also important is suitability for your children. You want your children to be happy with whatever arrangement you choose. You don’t want daily issues with kids who complain about going, who make excuses to keep from going, or who cause caregivers to call you midday with issues your child is having. Pick a summer situation that fits your children’s age and maturity level, their interests, and their need for physical activity, friendship, and guidance. The independent kid needs a different situation than the more retiring child. While it might be great to drop all your kids off at the same place each morning, the same place may not be the best option for each of them.

If you hire an in-home sitter, find someone who can adapt to each of your children. It’s not helpful to hire someone who is great with toddlers when your oldest child is nine. As a parent, you know that keeping children of different ages engaged and happy at the same time isn’t easy. Find a babysitter who is up for this challenge.

Naturally, there’s no better in-home sitter than yourself and no one who is safer or more suitable for your kids than you are. If you work full time, see if there is a way to flex your schedule so you can have more time this summer with your children. Can you work a four-day week so every Friday is your kid-day? Think creatively. You and your children will be happy you did.

Whatever you decide to do this summer, the time to get things figured out is now.  If the snow is gone, summer is right around the corner!


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.