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Anxiety in kids: what’s typical and what’s not

Grown-ups have grown-up anxieties ranging from work to money to relationships. Our kids don’t have to worry about these things, but they may have anxieties of their own. And, just like adults, some kids are naturally more anxious than others.


As a parent, how do you know when your child’s anxiety is to the point where he or she may need outside help?

We spoke to experts about what behaviors related to childhood anxiety are within the “to be expected” range and what are red flags. Here’s what they said:

Shyness vs. social anxiety

The American Psychological Association defines shyness as the tendency to feel awkward, worried or tense during social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people. In contrast, anxiety is defined as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”

So while feeling momentarily awkward around strangers is one thing, feeling visceral reactions of discomfort during any social interaction is more of a concern.

Even then, occasional cases of social anxiety aren’t necessarily cause for serious concern, says Natasha Sharma, author of The Kindness Journal. If a child looks worked up, has a change in breathing or verbally expresses anxiety in the face of an event, Sharma says parents can typically help little ones through the episodes by acknowledging it’s okay to feel nervous and by suggesting some deep breathing.

The red flag: The line between personally manageable social anxiety and cases that would benefit from outside help is drawn when the anxiety gets in the way of a child’s ability to maintain relationships or attend school. As licensed clinical psychologist Kristi Wolfe notes, a good threshold for calling in an expert is if your child has more worry-filled days than not and this has gone on for several months.

Separation anxiety vs. saying goodbye

A few tears before the first day at a new school or when mom leaves for a business trip are normal, but if a child experiences a great deal of stress with every goodbye for prolonged periods of time, they might be veering into anxiety territory.

Research indicates Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is the most commonly diagnosed childhood anxiety disorder in school-age kids, with the biggest peak among children aged 7 to 9. This often occurs along with big school transitions, like the start of middle school, as stress manifests as fear for those your child loves: According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of American, kids suffering from separation anxiety often worry bad things will happen to them, parents or friends in the absence.

The red flag: If a child is refusing to go to school or other age-appropriate activities that separate them from parents of caregivers, there’s more going on than a dislike of goodbyes.

Evening anxiety vs. bedtime avoidance

Asking for another story, another glass of water or an extra hug doesn’t necessarily mean your child has anxiety. It probably just means they’re engaging in what experts call “bedtime resistance,” and it’s super common in kids between 2 and 8 years old.

Most of the time, anxiety isn’t the root of bedtime battles, but if your child has anxiety symptoms during the day, they may have a difficult time getting to sleep a night, Dr. Gregory Stores notes in a paper published in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience.

The red flag: Anxious children are late to fall asleep, wake frequently and move around a lot. If a child is exhibiting those symptoms or nighttime panic attacks, anxiety could be to blame.

How to get help

Talking to your child’s pediatrician is the best place to start when anxiety affects sleep, eating habits, relationships or school performance.

A much larger percentage of children will experience minor episodes of anxiety that don’t get in the way of their routine and academic goals—and shouldn’t be considered reasons for shame. As Sharma says, “Normalizing a certain level of anxiety, not just in children, but in everybody, is actually a very healthy way of quelling it.”

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When your coworker is expecting a baby, what do you give them? A cute onesie? Some classic baby books? How about your own paid time off?

A recent report by Good Morning America has sparked plenty of online conversation about the growing trend of colleagues donating their own paid time off to an expecting parent in the workplace, and the overwhelming consensus is that while well intentioned, colleagues shouldn't have to crowdsource a substitute for parental leave.

As plenty of Twitter users have pointed out to GMA, paid parental leave is sorely needed in the United States, but in its absence, generous co-workers are giving up their own PTO so that a new mother or father can enjoy an extra day at home with their baby.

Last month The Washington Post reported the practice is common in federal offices. "Co-workers donate them to help extend parental leave so a frazzled new mom doesn't have to go back to work six weeks after giving birth," columnist Petula Dvorak wrote.

GMA interviewed mothers in non-federal workplaces who had their maternity leaves topped up by colleagues' donations.

Jessie Sampson works for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, but Nebraska does not offer state employees dedicated paid maternity leave. The state does allow "new moms who work for the state to receive donated time once they have used their own accrued sick time" thanks to a program launched in January GMA reports.

Sampson was able to have four more weeks with her second child than she did with her first thanks to the donations of coworkers. "I had more bonding time with my child and I was able to establish a much better breastfeeding routine," Sampson told GMA. "That's time [my colleagues] could be spending relaxing and to give it to me to spend time with my child, I'm really grateful for that."

Sampson is greatful, but Twitter users are outraged by the idea that programs like this should even have to exist, and point out that the colleagues of new parents shouldn't be sacrificing their own time off.

While well-intentioned to be sure, colleagues who donate their own paid time off may be putting themselves at risk. Research indicates that women who don't take their vacations time are eight times more likely to have a heart attack or develop heart disease than women who vacation twice a year, and when men at high risk for heart disease actually take their vacations they're 32% less likely to die of heart disease.

In short, we need our time off. And when colleagues feel pressured to donate theirs so a new parent can take a leave, they're putting themselves at risk of burning out. That's simply not fair, and it's actually not good for workplace productivity either.

"The mental and physical benefits of taking time off work include improved sleep, a better headspace, more clarity and increased creativity," Dr. Kathryn Smerling, a New York City based psychologist told NBC News. "By taking time off, you'll find a renewed sense of purpose, more energy to carry out tasks and in general, an overall sense of happiness."

Colleagues donating their own time off is a beautiful, generous act. But it's an itty-bitty Band-Aid on a great big gaping wound. America needs paid parental leave, and we need it now.

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Sometimes people get hungry when they're out and about, and since babies need to eat more often than most of us, they definitely get hungry away from home. Parents can't—and shouldn't—be forced to find a private spot for a breastfeeding break every time baby needs to nurse.

Breastfeeding is normal, it's natural and our right to do it in public is protected.

American mothers "have the right to breastfeed your baby wherever and whenever your baby is hungry," according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Office on Women's Health. Until this year, Idaho was the one state that had no protections for breastfeeding mothers, but that has changed.

Now all 50 states (and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) have laws that protect a mom's right to breastfeed in public, notes the National Conference of State Legislators.


The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the World Health Organization all encourage women to breastfeed and want to raise breastfeed rates in the United States. These organizations encourage exclusive breastfeeding because a growing body of evidence suggests breastfeeding offers optimal nutritional and immune system benefits, including lower risks for asthma, obesity, type 2 diabetes, ear and respiratory infections and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the CDC, 63.74% of Americans believe women should have the right to breastfeed in public places, and 57.75% say they are "comfortable when mothers breastfeed their babies near me in a public place."

Just over 19% of Americans are not comfortable seeing mothers breastfeed in public, but it's important to remember that a mother's right to breastfeed is legally protected, comfort in public spaces is not. Unfortunately, research suggests that "restaurant and shopping center managers have reported that they would either discourage breastfeeding anywhere in their facilities or would suggest that breastfeeding mothers move to an area that was more secluded."

Those attitudes are changing, but there are still many people who do not understand that breastfeeding moms have a right to feed their babies in public.

Recently, an Illinois mother who was waiting in (a very, very long) line during the Build-A-Bear Pay Your Age event was reportedly discouraged from nursing by a mall security guard. Fellow moms were not having it, and held a peaceful protest inside the shopping center last Saturday.

"We do not agree with the officer's decision to approach the mother and his actions do not reflect the views of this shopping center," the mall's General Manager said in a statement to the Beacon News. The manager apologized and said the shopping center will continue to support breastfeeding rights in the future.

So what can a mother do if she is approached by someone who discourages her from nursing in public?

"Remember that the law protects your right to feed your baby any place you need to. You do not need to respond to anyone who criticizes you for breastfeeding," the CDC states on its website. "If you feel in danger, move away from the person criticizing you and look for people who can support you.


We can breastfeed at bus stops, at restaurants, at the public pool, at the library, at the mall, or anywhere we need to. It's our responsibility to feed our children when they are hungry, and it's our right, too.

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They say there's no use in crying over it, but for pumping mamas, spilled milk is a major upset.

When you're working so hard to make sure your baby has breast milk, you don't want to lose a drop, and Chrissy Teigen knows this all too well.

The mom of two posted a video to social media Wednesday showing her efforts to rescue breastmilk from a tabletop. She used various utensils and a syringe to try to get the milk back in the bottle.

"I spilled my breastmilk and this is how important it is in this house," she says while suctioning up milk with what appears to be a baster.

In a follow-up video Teigen continues to try to rescue the spilled milk.

"We're trying," she says as she suctions up a drop or two. "I got some."

Teigen is currently breastfeeding baby Miles, her son with husband John Legend, and has been very public about the fact that she pumps a lot as a working mom.

She's also been open about the fact that milk supply has always been an issue for her, not just with Miles but with Luna, too.

"I actually loved [pumping] because I'm a collector of things, and so when I found out I could pump I [did it] so much because I knew the more you pumped, the more milk you'd make," she told POPSUGAR back in March. "So I loved collecting my breast milk and seeing how much I could get, even if it was very, very little."

Like a lot of moms, Teigen did struggle emotionally when a pump session wouldn't get her the ounces she wanted.

"I wasn't producing a lot of milk, and it was frustrating. When you're frustrated, [it can also make you] not produce that much."

Research backs her up. Stress has been linked to lower milk production. Because of that, she's trying to stay positive this time around, but captioned her video post "EVERY DROP COUNTS IN THIS HOUSE" because, well, they do.


So many mothers can relate. Have you ever tried to save your breastmilk?

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Former Bachelorette and mom of two Ali Fedotowsky is on a roll when it comes to starting conversations about why we mamas should love our bodies (and we love her for it).

Earlier this week Fedotowsky posted a series of photos showing her postpartum belly, loose skin and all. It was a vulnerable post, but a really valuable one in a world where images of celebrity postpartum bodies often don't reflect the ones we see in the mirror.

"I know it's important to be open and honest about my postpartum body in hopes that it helps even one person out there who is struggling with their own body image," Fedotowsky captioned the photos.

It seems like that post is helping, because, as Fedotowsky noted in her next Instagram post, her honest belly pics were met with an outpouring of love and support.

"I had no idea how many women needed to see that post," she wrote, noting that the reaction to those photos inspired her to write a blog post featuring her favorite breastfeeding-friendly clothing, because she's celebrating and loving her postpartum body for what it did and continues to do for her baby, not just what it looks like.

"Yes, I may have extra fat and loose skin around my belly, but that same body nourishes and comforts my child. Just another reason to love every inch of my body and how it has changed."

Fedotowsky gave birth in May, so she's only a couple months postpartum and it's not surprising that she's still carrying a little extra weight. Research indicates that about 20% of moms are carrying about 11 pounds extra 6 to 18 months after giving birth. And while weight loss is often cited as a reason for women to breastfeed, studies show that breastfeeding doesn't lead to substantial weight loss for everyone, and in fact only has a small effect on postpartum weight loss typically.

So moms like Fedotowsky should absolutely love the bodies that are feeding their babies, and we love how Fedotowsky is encouraging that.

Pregnancy changes our bodies. But they are still so beautiful.

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