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How much is too much worry/anxiety in a child? How do you deal with issues like perfectionism, worrying about others' misbehavior or being unprepared, or agonizing when things don't go right?

One example: My daughter is in a play and is very well prepared. However, she is having trouble sleeping because other children are not. I have talked with her about how she can only be responsible for herself, but she is still anxious. Another example: When my daughter knows her teacher will be out, she gets very nervous that the sub won't like her.

How do you assess when it is too much? What can a parent do to alleviate this and teach coping skills? When does professional intervention need to be sought?

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The answer would be different according to age. How old is Your daughter? – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Feb 1 '12 at 6:41
@TorbenGundtofte-Bruun my daughter is 8, but this has been going on a long time. – morah hochman Feb 1 '12 at 15:40
I highly suggests you to consult a specialist. – user2003 Feb 3 '12 at 15:23
My seven-year-old has been known to worry about how she's going to cope with having babies :) – Benjol Feb 10 '12 at 7:15

This is one of those eternals - children have various phases when they worry about things:

  • I know I was deeply concerned about nuclear war between 1979 and 1985) but those phases pass.
  • One of my kids (the 9 year old) worries about getting a good job when older

Reassurance is important here, along with encouragement. In your specific case, I think you need to help your daughter understand that children's plays aren't necessarily about being perfect, but that you would love to watch her try her best as she is the one most important to you. If the others aren't as good, it won't ruin your enjoyment of her performance at all.

Having a desire to do well and encourage others to do well is actually a very desirable quality to develop, so I don't think intervention is required.

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+1 for redirecting the attention from a perfect play to getting enjoyment out of any result. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Feb 1 '12 at 6:42

One thing you can do is encourage her to have a safe place to fail. I'm guessing that she normally does very well in stuff, and when you're used to success, you tend to fear failure more. It takes years to learn that you learn more from failure than success, and even then, it never feels good.

At the moment she's dealing with "potential failure", which is much harder to deal with, and much more destructive than actual failure.

Have her do one performance of her part, just for you, as badly as she fears she'll do it, and as if everything's going wrong around her. During the performance, either play the bad actors around her, or as you would if you were actually in the audience. Make it into a bit of a game.

Alternatively, get her to write down what she's scared will happen, not so you can look at it, but so it's out there where she can see it.

Once she's done, make sure she's okay, and hopefully it'll show her that what she's fearing isn't as bad as the desperate situation she's built up in her head. As Torben and Rory have said, make sure she's able to have fun, even if it's not perfect.

Finally, make sure she understands that even if it goes as wrong as possible, no-one will blame her, no-one will be upset or annoyed, and you'll be there to provide ice-cream and films.

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