Experiencing anxiety during life is normal and sometimes beneficial to your child in order to help them make positive choices and stay 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.
Anxiety can effect our thinking, decision-making ability, learning, concentration, and perception of our environment. It raises blood pressure, heart rate, and can cause many physical complaints. Some anxiety is normal and is an expected part of life. However, anxiety becomes a problem when it regularly interrupts normal activities like attending school, making friends, or sleeping. If this is the case for your child, an anxiety disorder may be to blame.
Thoughts, actions, and physical symptoms work together to produce anxiety. The ways in which situations are interpreted will result in feeling anxious or not. For example, one child in school may realize that they left their pencil in another teacher’s room and just decide to use a different one. Another child may realize the same thing and worry about getting the pencil back which causes the student to not focus on their work. As you can see, the same situation can have very different outcomes depending on a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
Observable behaviors commonly include: tearfulness, fears, attempting to avoid certain situations, frequently asking for reassurance, being overly cautious, and physical symptoms such as stomach aches and headaches.
There are several things that you can do at home to try and 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.
Read more on specific anxiety conditions on our childhood disorder page or by clicking on your area of interest:
Treatment and Tips For Childhood Anxiety Symptoms
- Have patience with your child. Getting upset will only increase the amount of anxiety that they are already experiencing.
- 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.
- Communicate regularly with school staff to ensure that your child has a support system at school. This should include a limited number of 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.
- For young children, pretend through use of toys or puppets to understand what is bothering them. Problem-solving can also take place through this method. Children will be more apt to express themselves through means of the toy or puppet instead of speaking directly about their worries. Pretending that a worry is the toy’s problem makes it easier for kids to communicate their thoughts and feelings.
- Use a calm approach when supporting your child though times of anxiety. Anxiety can be influenced in either direction by the reactions and responses given by caregivers.
- Communicate your child’s needs to their teacher(s) and be their advocate. Anxious children may take school requirements and responsibilities more seriously than other students and become upset if they cannot meet them. On the other hand, it is also common for children who suffer from anxiety to experience school refusal. Communicating your child’s needs and developing a school plan will help them to feel more comfortable.
- Try your best to not be hurried. Parents who are in a rush have less time to be proactive, positive and preventative
- If the anxiety is becoming unmanageable, contact your child’s doctor and/or a mental health professional for further guidance and intervention.
Facts About Those Who Experience Anxiety
» Be aware that anxious individuals tend to interpret situations as troubling, or dangerous more often than non-anxious people. Anxious kids will likely need assurance and plans to feel safe in various situations.
» Additionally, when experiencing anxious thoughts and heightened physical symptoms, it is natural to want to escape or avoid a situation. It is also very common for an anxious person to try to control a fearful situation by asking trusted people for reassurance, being overly cautious, checking to make sure everything is safe, and only focusing on the anxiety.
» There are no known causes for anxiety. However, research shows that there are risk factors that may contribute to the development of childhood anxiety. These include:
• Ongoing environmental stressors
• Learned behavior from watching or listening to the fears of others’
• Health issues
• Seeing violence or scary scenes on television or in movies. Children who have anxiety experience even more difficulty in processing and coping with violence. They may fear that the violence will happen to them.
• Being cared for by someone who is emotional, fearful, high-strung, or overly sensitive
» Visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s website to gain additional information specific to your child’s potential condition. This link takes you directly to the child and teenager section of the association’s website: http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/children
» Understand that young children cannot fully comprehend the concept of intentional avoidance. What they do understand though is that they feel upset and worried by something and they don’t want to have those feelings again. Be understanding and supportive that your child may not be displaying challenging behaviors to be defiant, it is simply a reaction to the strong emotions caused by anxiety.
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Barb, LMHC, CPC, Ed.M, CAS