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Dr. Bruce Hirsch Talks with Parents About Kids' Anxiety

A therapist helps parents sort through their children's anxiety symptoms and suggests effective ways to respond.

By GreatSchools Staff

Bruce Hirsch, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who serves as Director of the Clinical Department at the Frostig Center in Pasadena, California, a school and center for learning disabled students. He also has a private clinical practice specializing in psychotherapy with children and families, learning disabilities, and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. He co-authored two articles on our website on recognizing and treating anxiety in children with learning and attention problems. 

This conversation about children's anxiety between Dr. Hirsch and parents of children with learning and attention problems originally took place in 2006 on the parent message board hosted by Schwab Learning, formerly a program of the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation. Because the topic is timeless, we feel readers will find much that is useful and important for their own parenting challenges.

Anxiety and Sleep Disturbances

From: healthy11

I'd like to ask how a person can determine if an LD teen who has panic/anxiety attacks at night is just "stuck" with a lousy family history (dad has occasional panic/anxiety attacks) or if they could be the result of some other stresses that can be better managed?

From: healthy11

When my son was younger (under age 10) once a month or so he used to have what I called "scream dreams," and when I'd check in on him, he could answer simple questions (i.e., Are you hot? "Yes.") but he would soon fall back asleep and not have any recollection of it the next morning…

Dr. Hirsch responds:

healthy11 -
I don't think that what your son is experiencing are "random events." I think there are causes for the anxiety, although we can't always determine what those causes are. In all likelihood, the family history (which we can't do anything about) and particular stressors (which we can) are factors…

Managing Anxiety at School

From: JWmom

My 10-year-old son has ADHD/anxiety, and is taking medication for both. He also sees a child psychologist. He has major issues with anxiety at school, usually revolving around the amount of homework and pressure to complete class work on time. What accommodations would you suggest we ask the school to provide when he is feeling anxious?

Dr. Hirsch responds:

JWmom -
In general, I would rather see an anxious child complete a smaller chunk of work and feel successful than to always have unfinished work hanging over him. The latter just increases the anxiety…

Anxiety about Approaching New Experiences

From: Suzanne_86

As a parent of a 13-year-old - what is the best way to deal with a child's anxiety over not [being] willing to try new (safe) experiences - such as going to an event with family friends (without me/dad along). Sleep-overs at a cousin's house? The anxiety of doing things that don't seem to phase/or stress non-LD kids...

Dr. Hirsch responds:

Suzanne_86 -
You have 2 questions floating out there. The first is about new experiences that make your son anxious. I appreciate your openness that the more you try to help break the cycle, the more you feel like you are feeding the cycle. I think that may be because you are getting too caught up in whether he gets over these hurdles now…

Comments from readers

"I have a 4.5 year old boy who just started JK this year in a full french schoool. He is bilingual English-spanish. It's only been 2 weeks and he's showing aggresive behaviour towards other kids. I have been working later hours as well so not sure if lack of my attention and new school/language. He wants to go to school - he comes home singing and counting in french. Help on what to do please. Two calls from the principal is enough... what can I do? I took toys and TV away for a couple of days but seems like he's not caring too much about it. "
"My son is 7 years old and has great grades in class, but he gets really frustated when he does his sentences for his spelling test at school.He earases the whole sentence which slows him daown. He is inconsistant with finshing his schoolwork each day. Why does he get so flustered "