Anxiety in Children
Experiencing anxiety during life is normal and sometimes beneficial to your child in making positive choices and staying safe. It is when worry or anxiety begins to create suffering for your children during more days than not that it needs to be addressed. There are several things that you can do at home to try to make your child feel safe and to lessen their feelings of anxiety. However, if you are unsuccessful in your attempts please notify your child’s doctor and/or a mental health professional to further assist your family in feeling their best.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Symptoms include your child expressing consistent worry over a variety of aspects of the day. These could include being late for school and/or activities, worry over not finishing a task, school performance, sports performance, getting good grades, natural disasters, world events, or feeling worried but they may be unable to identify a reason why. Worry creates physical symptoms too.
Your child may have one or more of the following symptoms:
- trouble sleeping
- tearfulness or crying
- heart racing
- stomach aches
- difficulty sleeping
- muscle tension
- becomes tired easily
- feeling as though they are having a hard time breathing
Children with Generalized Anxiety Disorder are likely to strive for perfection in all they do. In addition, they long for reassurance from others and crave positive recognition. Due to this trait being seen by most children with or without this diagnosis; it is a good rule of thumb to provide reassurance and positivity in all situations.
Treatment and Tips
1. Have patience with your child. Getting upset will only increase the amount of anxiety that your child is already experiencing.
2. Set aside a specific time each day to allow your child to discuss their worries with you. Worries that happen during the day can be written or drawn and set aside until worry time. Writing or drawing may help them to express the worry and save it for later. Tell your child that setting their thoughts aside will keep the worries safe so they can focus on more important things like paying attention in school.
3. Communicate regularly with school staff to ensure that your child has a support system at school. This should include a limited number times that your child is allowed to leave the classroom to visit the counselor or nurse. Your child should almost never be sent home due to anxiety only.
4. If the anxiety is becoming unmanageable, contact your child’s doctor and/or a mental health professional for further guidance and intervention.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation anxiety symptoms of becoming upset and crying when a parent leaves or when a stranger is in close proximity of your child is normal from approximately 18 months through three years of age. In most of these cases, these children will become calm again when provided with distractions, time, and reassurance.
Separation anxiety disorder occurs in children over the age of three who have their daily lives impacted by three of the following:
- Repeated and excessive distress when expecting or experiencing separation from home or from major attachment figures.
- Persistent and excessive worry about losing a major attachment figure or about possible harm happening to them.
- Persistent and excessive worry that something bad will happen resulting in the separation from a major attachment figure.
- Persistent unwillingness or refusal to go to school or elsewhere because of the fear of separation.
- Persistently and excessively fearing or showing unwillingness to be alone or without major attachment figures at home or in other settings. (Children may not even want their caregiver to leave the room that they are sharing)
- Persistent reluctance or refusal to sleep away from home or to go to sleep without being near a major attachment figure.
- Repeated nightmares involving the theme of separation.
- Repeated complaints of physical symptoms (stomach aches, headaches, vomiting) when separation from major attachment figures occurs or is expected.
Treatment and tips
1. It is especially important to make sure there is at least one familiar person with your child. Don’t ever leave your young child with strangers, unless it happens to be the first day of daycare or school.
2. Read books together about separation anxiety.
3. Reassure your child that your love them, review the plan for when you are gone, and tell them when you will be returning.
4. Take a picture of you and your child to leave with them while you are gone. They can look at this picture if they become sad during the day.
5. Give notice about the day’s schedule so that your child can prepare and plan with you for what the day holds.
6. Speak to your child’s doctor and/or a mental health professional if your child’s symptoms do not improve.
Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
People who suffer from social anxiety disorder are known to be overly sensitive to criticism, have trouble being assertive, and suffer from low self-esteem. They typically are afraid of leaving surroundings in which they are comfortable, such as their own home. Going to the store, school, church, or anywhere else where they feel that their actions may be scrutinized are avoided or faced with a large degree of anxiety.
Social anxiety disorder can make people, and especially children, feel very alone. Siblings and peers seem to go about enjoying life while children with social anxiety disorder are unable to join this social developmental time in their life. In addition, attending school is likely to be seen as an unsafe and perhaps a paralyzing place where being social, speaking in front of others, and eating in the cafeteria are expected. Left untreated, social anxiety can lead to other mental disorders lasting into adulthood.
Symptoms of social anxiety disorder include obvious fear/anxiety about social situations that negatively impact daily. Specific symptoms include:
- engaging with others
- avoidance of social situations or enduring the feared or anxiety producing situations with great distress
- the chance that they may show the fear/anxiety that they are feelings through their actions
- In children: crying, freezing, clinging, shrinking, or failing to speak in social situations
- fear/anxiety over others’ viewing and possibility scrutinizing their actions
- fear/anxiety that is excessive for the given situation and is excessive of what is accepted by the person’s culture
Treatment and tips
1. Provide opportunities for your child to engage with others in the comfort of your own home. This will help your child to feel safe in taking some social risks.
2. Encourage your child to role play social situations with you or by themselves in a mirror to rehearse what to say and do.
3. Allow your child to express their fears and desires about their anxiety while being supportive and nurturing.
4. Do not allow this to go on for more than a few weeks without talking with your child’s doctor or with a mental health professional. This disorder has a detrimental impact on daily functioning and interaction with others.
Children who experience specific phobia suffer from intense fears despite real danger being a small or non-existent threat. It is common for children to experience short-term fear surrounding the dark, certain animals, thunder, heights, visiting the doctor, and bugs during certain developmental periods of their lives. However, if these fears are causing great distress in life or last more than a few months, speaking to a professional is advised.
Symptoms cause a negative impact in daily life functioning. Those that you may see if your child suffers from a specific phobia are:·
- attempts and/or a strong desire to escape or avoid a situation or the situation is endured with great distress
- crying, freezing, tantrums, and/or clinging to caregivers
- children may have tantrums
- trouble focusing on anything but the phobia
- feeling unable to control one’s fear
- trouble making decisions
- feeling so overwhelmed that the person feels as though they will pass out
- physical symptoms such as crying, headaches, stomach aches sweating, shaking, stomach aches, rapid breathing and heart rate, and trembling.
- fear/anxiety is in excess of what is normally reasonable based on the level of danger present; and is in excess of what is culturally accepted for the person
- symptoms are immediately triggered based on thoughts or exposure of the feared stimuli
Treatment and tips
1. It is hard for many children to understand that their phobia is irrational, or not real. Provide your child with plenty of patience and support during this time.
2. Talk with your child about their fears and offer to be with them if exposure to the object or situation occurs in the future. Give reassurance that you will be with them the whole time and that everything will work out.
3. Practice ways to calm your child’s body such as deep breathing and positive self-talk.
4. Reflect on your child’s success after being exposed to their phobia to help encourage future success.
5. Contact your child’s doctor and/or a mental health professional if your child is becoming overwhelmed by their phobia(s) and having a difficult time engaging in everyday life.
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