Even in the best of situations, all children experience some anxiety in the form of worry, apprehension, dread, fear or distress. Occasional nervousness and fleeting anxieties occur when a child is first faced with an unfamiliar or especially stressful situation. It can be an important protection or signal for caution in certain situations.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is really just a form of stress. It can be experienced in many different ways — physically, emotionally, and in the way people view the world around them. Anxiety mainly relates to worry about what might happen — worrying about things going wrong or feeling like you’re in some kind of danger.
Anxiety is a natural human reaction, and it serves an important biological function: It’s an alarm system that’s activated whenever we perceive danger or a threat.
Signs and Symptoms
Although all kids experience anxiety in certain situations, most (even those who live through traumatic events) don’t develop anxiety disorders. Those who do, however, will seem anxious and have one or more of the following signs:
- Easily distressed, or agitated when in a stressful situation
- Repetitive reassurance questions, “what if” concerns, inconsolable, won’t respond to logical arguments
- Headaches, stomachaches, regularly too sick to go to school
- Anticipatory anxiety, worrying hours, days, weeks ahead
- Disruptions of sleep with difficulty falling asleep, frequent nightmares, difficulty sleeping alone
- Perfectionism, self-critical, very high standards that make nothing good enough
- Overly-responsible, people pleasing, excessive concern that others are upset with him or her, unnecessary apologizing
- Demonstrating excessive avoidance, refuses to participate in expected activities, refusal to attend school
- Disruption of child or family functioning, difficulty with going to school, friend’s houses, religious activities, family gatherings, errands, vacations
- Excessive time spent consoling child about distress with ordinary situations, excessive time coaxing child to do normal activities- homework, hygiene, meals
These problems can affect a child’s day-to-day functioning, especially when it comes to concentrating in school, sleeping, and eating.
What can a parent or caregiver do? Before seeking professional help do some homework:
It can be helpful to check in with your child’s teacher to find out how school is going for your child academically and socially.
Many times teachers are surprised when parents ask about anxious children. Often anxious children are well behaved in school and don’t cause trouble. However, teachers can tell you if a child looks nervous or uncomfortable in class, has trouble completing tests or assignments, or has trouble taking feedback from the teacher. The teacher will also notice if a child is particularly isolated, ignored by, or actively rejected by his peers.
Take some time to observe your child and take notes
It can be very helpful if a parent can give concrete examples of the behavior or emotions that are disturbing to the child and family. Note when things happen (e.g., in new situations, at bedtime, around peers but not adults), and how often they occur. You don’t need to write down every instance but some good examples can be useful.
A child’s anxiety disorder can be treated by a mental health professional. A therapist can look at the symptoms, diagnose the specific anxiety disorder, and create a plan to help a child cope.
A type of talk therapy called cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) is often used. In CBT, kids try out new ways to think and act in situations that can cause anxiety, and to manage and deal with stress. The therapist provides support and guidance and teaches new coping skills, such as relaxation techniques or breathing exercises. Sometimes, but not always, medication is used as part of the treatment for anxiety.
Helping Your Child Cope
The best way to help your child is to acknowledge the problem in a supportive, nonjudgmental way. Talk openly about your child’s symptoms and really try to understand how they are affecting everyday life. It can also help to talk to other adults in your child’s life, such as teachers and coaches.
Be patient and positive as your child undergoes treatment and finds new ways to cope. Sometimes it helps to talk to your child about your own stresses and how you’ve been able to overcome them. Remind your child that letting go of worry allows space for more happiness and fun.
Rest assured that with the right care, your child can overcome anxiety and learn to face the future ready and relaxed.
If you feel your child needs additional help or if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to our office at 919-636-5240. We are here to help in anyway we can as well as answer any additional questions you might have.