Childhood Anxiety 101
About Childhood Anxiety and How to Help!
Do you suspect your child has anxiety. All children have have anxiety at times, however anxiety can impact children in different ways. For some children, class presentations may feel like the most intense, embarrassing, and feared moment of their lives. Other children may worry that a monster is living under their bed. Although these thoughts might be viewed as silly by adults, felt anxiety is the most real thing in these children's heads. All anxious children share one impending thought of doom; that something bad is going to happen.
Although anxiety mostly ruminates in children’s thoughts, it also commonly exhibits physical symptoms such as fatigue, jitters, headaches, stomachaches, and other somatic struggles.
In today’s day and age, anxiety is commonly thought as a negative reaction to specific events or stimuli. Evolutionary speaking, anxiety was an engrained response to a threat that was used to help our ancestors function safely and avoid danger. As time has gone on, responses have developed a curated response to these perceived threats. For example, a person who was about to walk across the grand canyon on a tightrope may feel anxiety, as the body is telling them that they might be in danger (which they probably are). Although healthy anxiety can prevent danger, often times an anxious response is mismatched to the perceived threat. When this response becomes recurrent to unthreatening stimuli, an anxiety disorder may develop.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)- Children who suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) commonly experience uncontrollable and excessive worry about a number of activities or events. This form of anxiety disorder does not manifest itself around a specific source, unlike a specific anxiety disorder or separation anxiety where the child has a fear surrounding a certain object, activity, or a thing.
Social Anxiety Disorder- Children who struggle with social anxiety disorder have a persistent fear of being judged in public or in one on one interactions. They may avoid specific social situations in fear that they might mess up, say the wrong thing, or embarrass themselves. Children who struggle with social anxiety can experience this on a daily basis. Social anxiety is often hidden and internal, though it can affect academics, interactions with peers and adults, and athletic performance.
Specific Anxiety Disorder (Phobias)- This form of anxiety disorder typically manifests itself into an intense phobia of a specific object or situation. In children, it can sometimes be hard to determine whether a child has this disorder. For instance, many children are scared of bugs, but for children with a phobia - the fear is much more intense, and could be met with avoidance.
Signs of Anxiety in Children
Although every child’s symptoms of anxiety differ, there are a few common symptoms that many children struggle with on a daily basis:
Complaining of stomach aches or other physical problems
How Can Parents Help?
Anxiety affects between 10-20% of children around the world. Like many aspects of their life, children typically cannot deal with this problem themselves. Some parents may take the approach to “wait out” their child’s anxiety. Unfortunately a child's anxious thoughts often continue to build up, until it affects their daily functioning.
Parents can help by validating their child’s emotions. Parents can let their child know that they understand the big emotions they are experiencing, and that it’s okay. Strategies to can help manage a child’s anxiety include:
1. Listen attentively to your child's concerns: Communicate to your child that you are available to lend an ear and understand their worries and fears. Encourage them to express what is troubling them and reassure them that their emotions are legitimate. Explain that anxious thoughts are there to help, but are not always helpful!
2. Introduce relaxation techniques: Teach your child methods such as deep breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation, as these techniques effectively reduce anxiety. Encourage regular practice to enhance their effectiveness.
3. Discourage avoidance: While it's natural for children to want to avoid anxiety-inducing situations, this can ultimately intensify their anxiety over time. Instead, motivate your child to gradually confront their fears while providing unwavering support and reassurance.
4. Establish a consistent routine: By creating a predictable schedule, you can help your child feel more secure and alleviate anxiety. Ensure they receive adequate sleep, follow a nutritious diet, and engage in regular physical activity.