21 Aug Everything You Need to Know About Anxiety in Children
Anxiety is a natural part of life. It helps us deal with the stress of facing new or challenging situations. But when it occurs frequently and causes disruption to one’s well-being, anxiety can be a problem. Although we typically think of adults and adolescents as having anxiety, it can also manifest at a young age. In fact, 7.4 percent of children ages three to 17 have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. If you are wondering how to spot anxiety in children, here are some important things you need to know.
What Causes Anxiety?
A multitude of factors and life experiences can result in developing an anxiety disorder. It can be genetically based, so if other members of your family have anxiety, it may have been inherited. Aside from genetics, there are other factors that can cause anxiety disorder. It can develop after a stressful event, like the death of a family member, the divorce of parents, or a serious illness or injury. Interpersonal problems like bullies at school can also make children feel stressed.
Because anxiety is an internal experience, it can be difficult to spot. But by being with our children, we can better monitor their behavior. The symptoms may be difficult to see because anxious children are often withdrawn and quiet. Not to mention, everyone feels stressed at one time or another. So how do you distinguish between healthy anxiety and an anxiety disorder? The difference lies in whether that anxiety interferes with their ability to enjoy their lives.
What are the Signs of Anxiety in Children?
When their worries impede their relationships, education, or hobbies, then your child may have an anxiety disorder. Are they constantly fearful and exhibiting clingy behavior? These signs, along with the others listed below, can indicate that your child may be overly anxious. Anxiety can appear both physically and mentally, so keep an eye out for these signs to see if your child has an anxiety disorder:
- Difficulty concentrating. Anxiety can interfere with schoolwork and make it challenging for children to focus. If your child struggles to complete their homework out of fear that they won’t do a good enough job, they may be dealing with anxiety.
- Problems with eating. Stress can reduce a child’s appetite and make them push away entire plates of food.
- Issues sleeping and nightmares. At night, anxiety can prevent a child from falling asleep. It can also give them bad dreams when they do finally fall asleep.
- Fear of social situations. On your child’s first day of school, it can be intimidating to try and make new friends; this is a normal response. But repeated anxiety when they attend school and other social gatherings can indicate an anxiety disorder.
- Always asking, “What if?” Children have active imaginations. When this ability leads them to be overly fearful and causes them to frequently imagine the worst-case scenario, it can cause a lot of stress for them. Fear of incredibly unlikely events, like a tornado or fire, can be a symptom of disordered anxiety.
- Clinginess. A child that is afraid to leave your side may be exhibiting signs of an anxiety disorder. If they are reluctant to attend school or leave the house to see friends, they might be dealing with anxiety.
- Shakiness, shortness of breath, or racing heartbeat. Though anxiety is an internal experience, it can manifest as physical symptoms too. When the “flight or fight” response is triggered in the body, you may notice that your child begins to act in those ways.
What are the Types of Anxiety?
There are many different types of anxiety disorders that children can have. Being aware of them can help you spot the signs.
- Generalized anxiety disorder is common among children and is characterized by persistent and irrational fears.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, involves pervasive thoughts and obsessions. Children may adopt physical rituals to relieve these worries, which are called compulsions.
- Panic disorder involves panic attacks, where children experience sudden and intense fear. Symptoms include chest pain, fast heartbeat, and trouble breathing.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD can develop when your child has experienced a frightening or traumatic experience. Its symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, and irritability.
If you are concerned that your child has an anxiety disorder, you may want to consult a medical or mental health professional.
How To Deal with Anxiety in Children
In many instances, addressing anxiety in children requires the help of a trained therapist who works with anxious children. A professional can be a great resource to assist your child in managing this disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT will help children address their worries and respond to them in healthy ways. You can also refer them to a doctor. In some cases, medication can be a helpful treatment.
Aside from seeking the help of a professional, there are other things you can do at home to help a child who is struggling with anxiety. Here are some tips:
- Talk to your child about their thoughts, worries, and experiences. Expressing themselves can help children process their emotions.
- Practice mindfulness activities like meditation with your child to teach them techniques that will help them cope with anxious thoughts.
- Exercises like yoga are physical ways that your child can relieve mental stress.
Anxiety is a way for people to prepare themselves to try to prevent bad things from happening. But an overly anxious child will be unable to enjoy their life and not be able to interact comfortably with friends and family. Watch for signs of anxiety in your child so that you can give them the help they need to be happier and more carefree.
Our special thanks to Veronica W. for contributing this insightful post on anxiety in children. You can find more of her articles on Kidthink, a mental health treatment center and outreach program that focuses on improving mental health and well-being for children aged twelve and under in Manitoba.