For children as well as teens, there are immense pressures that can put a strain on their mental health and their physical well-being. For example, bullying and in particular, cyberbullying are especially problematic for many teens but younger children as well.
More than two-thirds of students report having rumors spread about them online, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Even young children may face social pressures, pressure academically, and they may also experience underlying mental health issues including anxiety. Most mental health disorders, including anxiety, tend to appear from an early age and have usually manifested by the age of 14.
When a child struggles with anxiety, if it’s not recognized and appropriate steps aren’t taken, the problem can ultimately get worse rather than better.
As a parent, what should you do?
First, learn more about anxiety disorders and the signs and symptoms, and then you can start gaining ways to help your child cope, and you can have a professional intervene if necessary.
What Are the Different Types of Childhood Anxiety?
There are different types of anxiety disorders that can affect children, as is the same with adults. These can include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorders (GAD): This is a type of anxiety disorder where the fears or concerns a child has can vary significantly. The things that you might normally think about day-to-day become very anxiety-producing for kids with GAD. Kids with GAD will worry more often, and they may also worry about things that wouldn’t typically cause worry in a child.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD): It’s natural for young children to experience some level of separation anxiety when their parent leaves them, but as they get older if it remains a problem, it may be characterized as a separation anxiety disorder. This may lead a child to make up excuses not to go to school or social activities, and they may have problems falling asleep without their parents nearby.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: Also called social phobia, social anxiety can cause kids to feel excessively worried or embarrassed about what people might say or think about them. They may be terrified for their teacher to call on them during class, or they could have extreme fear about group activities.
Other forms of anxiety that may occur in children include selective mutism and specific phobias about a particular thing or situation.
What Are the Symptoms of Anxiety in Children?
Anxiety can affect children in a variety of ways, some of which may be obvious and others less so. A child may be very clingy to their parents or may cry frequently. A child with anxiety may experience physical symptoms such as ongoing butterflies in their stomach, clammy hands, dry mouth or a racing heart.
The body has something called a fight-or-flight response, and that’s activated when we experience something dangerous. For a child with anxiety, this response may be overactive and may occur in the absence of any type of danger.
Why Do Kids Have Anxiety Disorders?
Different factors can and often do play a role in the development of anxiety disorders for both children and adults.
Genetics can be a big part of it, so if someone in your family has an anxiety disorder, your child may be more prone to it as well.
Brain chemistry affects it because neurotransmitters that aren’t working the way they should, can lead to anxiety. Certain situations in life can trigger anxiety, such as abuse or a transition like moving or a divorce, and children can also learn to be more fearful because of how they see others around them behaving.
How Are Anxiety Disorders in Children Treated?
When a child’s anxiety needs treatment, or you think your child’s quality of life would improve with some form of treatment, it typically involves cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. CBT is a type of talk therapy that can be useful for someone of any age.
During CBT, a therapist works with a child to bring out their negative underlying thought processes and patterns and show them how they affect how their fear.
Many times in CBT, a child will learn how to face their fear, and they can work on the development of coping skills.
What Can You Do as a Parent?
So, as a parent, what can you do as far as helping your anxious child beyond seeking out therapy?
- You’re not necessarily going to be able to cure or fully eliminate your child’s anxiety, but the goal as a parent should be helping your child manage it effectively. Kids with anxiety have to learn coping skills that work well for them, and they have to learn how to function even if they are experiencing something that triggers their anxiety.
- Avoidance is not a good path. As parents, we want to protect our children, so if your child has anxiety, it may mean that you’re trying to avoid all the things that cause anxiety for them, but this may do more harm than good. You want your child to be able to be in an uncomfortable situation and learn how to manage it. Avoidance isn’t a productive way to deal with uncomfortable situations.
- You can respect how your child feels as far as their anxiety, but that doesn’t mean that you have to empower those feelings. For example, you can listen empathetically as your child talks about being afraid to go to school, but you don’t have to build them up and agree with them.
- Stay calm when your child is feeling anxious, and learn how to praise them when they make even small steps in the right direction. Don’t punish your child if they experience a setback in how they deal with their anxiety.
As a parent of a child with anxiety, you have to work on how you approach the situation so that your child can then follow your lead. Manage your own expectations and work with your child on small steps, rather than expecting things to change overnight.