Anxiety disorders affect millions of people – both adults and children – in the United States. In fact it’s very likely that you know a child or adolescent who struggles with anxiety.
Unfortunately, many with anxiety disorders are not getting treatment – an estimated 80% of children. This compounds the challenge of getting help for children with anxiety disorders so we must be extra vigilant in our understanding, empathy and kindness towards them.
As cited in the graphic above mental health disorders likeanxiety do not have a minimum age requirement. These disorders can be difficultand traumatizing both for the children who experience them and for their parents.Additionally, anxietydisorders in children is trickier than usual because it may be hard tofigure out if a child is suffering from anxiety or from another condition. Inchildren, the symptoms of mental health disorders like anxiety often overlapwith symptoms of other disorders, and it can be very easy to mistake anxietyfor a learning disability or an attention deficit disorder.
Thereality is anxiety is a normal part of childhood and every child goes throughphases. While a phase is usually temporary and harmless, children who sufferfrom an anxiety disorder experience fear, nervousness, and shyness, and theystart to avoid places and activities.
Signs and Symptoms ofAnxiety in Children
Awareness of anxious feelings is hard enough to adults who are equipped with a higher degree of maturity that many children simply have not developed yet. Further, anxiety may be missed because it doesn’t necessarily declare itself with attention-getting disruptive behaviors as this New York Times article cites.
In particular, anxiety in teenagers is becoming more common as they face the mounting pressures of schoolwork, college preparation, first jobs, social activities, and becoming an adult, on top of any issues they may face with their families at home.
Awareness of anxious feelings is hard enough to adults who are equipped with a higher degree of maturity that many children simply have not developed yet. In particular, anxiety in teenagers is becoming more common as they face the mounting pressures of schoolwork, college preparation, first jobs, social activities, and becoming an adult, on top of any issues they may face with their families at home.
So what does anxiety look like in children and adolescents?Anxiety presents itself in many different ways in children, ways that are notalways easy to pick-up on. These symptoms include:
- Inattention, poor focus
- Refusing to go to school
- Meltdowns before school about clothing, hair, shoes, socks
- Meltdowns after school about homework
- Difficulties with transitions within school, and between school and an activity/sport
- Difficulty settling down for bed
- Having high expectations for school work, homework and sports performance
What Can You Do toHelp an Anxious Child?
Any or all of these could mean they have an anxiety disorderor could have something else to work through, which is why seeing a licensed mental health professional is a critical firstline of defense.
Personally speaking I experienced anxiety as a child eventhough it was not formally diagnosed. I recall as a young child of 8-12 yearsof age looking at myself in the mirror as I experienced panic attacks andwondering why I had sweaty palms, dry mouth and a racing heart to name a few.It wasn’t until my late twenties that I was diagnosed with GeneralizedAnxiety Disorder (GAD).
As some who experienced anxiety as a child and well intoadulthood here are four things you can do to help a child feeling anxious:
1.Kindness: Tell your child that you understand and that it can’t be easy for them. Address them with kindness and reserve judgment. Know that anxiety is a real thing and share that with them, that they are not “going crazy.” As Nicole Black writes in her blog, kindness and understanding can go a very long way in helping an anxious child.
2. Mindfulness: Share ideas with them for mindfulness and try to help them relax and calm their fears. Breathing mindfulness can be a fun challenge you can do together, including my favorite – four square breathing.
3. Assurance: Assure them that what they are feeling are real physical sensations to their thoughts, but also that thoughts are thoughts, not facts. They will not harm them.
4. Self-Worth: Help them see that they are not “less” of a person because they are having these feelings. They may thing that because other kids may not share what they are feeling does not mean others do not experience the same thing – in fact, that statistics prove that thousands of children experience anxiety too. Just because they are experiencing anxious feelings does not mean they are not good enough – assure them they are good enough, “as-is.”
I hope we can raise awareness for children so that a child knows they are not alone and can get the help they need.–