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What Kids Worry About

Parents may assume that preteens are preoccupied with things such as their looks, schoolwork, and fitting into the social scene, but a recent KidsHealth KidsPoll titled “What Kids Worry About” reveals that these aren’t the only things on their minds.
In the survey, 1154 kids ages 9 to 13 were asked how much they worry—all the time, a lot, a little, or never—about a variety of concerns that are common among children their age. The majority of kids (86 percent) said they worry “almost all the time” or “a lot” about the health of someone they love. Many kids said they worry “almost all the time” or “a lot” about other things, too—including schoolwork, tests, or grades (77 percent), their future (76 percent), and looks or appearance (63 percent).
The “What Kids Worry About” poll piloted 20 items from a list of common worries and stressors for children in this age group. The final KidsPoll included the eight items that ranked highest on the pilot.

Reasons for Worry or Stress
Health of Someone You Love: 55% – “almost all the time” / 31% – “a lot”
Your Future: 43% – “almost all the time” / 33% – “a lot”
Schoolwork, Tests, or Grades: 37% – “almost all the time” / 40% – “a lot”
Your Looks or Appearance: 37% – “almost all the time” / 26% – “a lot”
Making Mistakes and Messing Up: 26% – “almost all the time” / 35% – “a lot”
Your Friends and Their Problems: 24% – “almost all the time” / 33% – “a lot”
War or Terrorism: 25% – “almost all the time” / 25% – “a lot”
The Environment: 10% – “almost all the time” / 21% – “a lot”

“Worry about the health of a loved one—whether it’s a parent, grandparent, sibling, or a pet—is a concern kids often experience,” explains D’Arcy Lyness, Ph.D., who is a child and adolescent psychologist and the medical editor for “Health is on kids’ minds during the preteen years, when many schools address the dangers of smoking, drinking alcohol, unhealthy eating, and not wearing seatbelts. It’s natural that, as kids begin to learn about these behaviors, they may also begin to worry that the things will affect the people they love and rely upon to keep them safe. At this age, kids become more aware of health problems that parents or grandparents may have. And some kids experience the illness or death of a loved one.”

According to KidsPoll, even though many kids worry about the health of a loved one, many do not talk about it. Of the kids surveyed, only 23 percent said they talk to a parent when they worry. Also, 25 percent reported that they “talk to a friend” and 20 percent said they “try to fix it or make it better” on their own when they’re worried., a popular website for children’s health information, offers parents the following tips on how to help kids manage their worries about the health of loved ones:
Take the lead. Just because kids don’t ask doesn’t mean that they’re not aware or concerned. Remember to ask questions and listen.

Tune into school. Know what your child is learning and hearing about in health class, and talk about it together.
Watch what you say. Be mindful of your words when you talk about your own health.
Don’t overreact. When teaching safety and healthy behaviors, avoid using worst-case scenarios or exaggerating the risks just to make your point.
Provide information. If someone is ill, keep a calm perspective and give accurate information at a level your child can understand. Sometimes, what kids imagine is worse than the reality. Explaining a situation can help to dispel misconceptions.

Reassure. Remind kids that their feelings and concerns are natural.
Be a good listener. Provide an open, empathetic, and nonjudgmental atmosphere.
Be a role model. Take good care of yourself. Leading a healthy lifestyle minimizes potential sources of concern for kids and sets a good example for healthy living.
“Parents can provide perspective as well as support,” reminds Lyness. “It’s easy for kids to misinterpret what they hear, so sometimes parents need to correct misconceptions. Let your kids know if what they worry about isn’t likely to happen, and be understanding. After all, isn’t the health of a loved one a worry we all can relate to?” BC

The KidsHealth KidsPoll “What Kids Worry About” surveyed 1154 children ages 9 to 13 across the United States at nine member sites of the National Association of Health Education Centers (NAHEC). Researchers from the Department of Health Education and Recreation, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, conducted the survey. Survey questions were drafted with the expertise of the KidsPoll Scientific Advisory Board. For complete survey findings, visit the website

May 2008.

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