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Children With Anxiety

Updated on July 18, 2013
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Is Your Child Suffering From Anxiety?

Most children, along with adults, get fearful and anxious at times. A majority of kids learn how to cope with their normal fears and anxieties as they grow older. Anxiety and even panic is a normal response to unknown and fearful situations, a natural defense mechanism to keep them safe.

However, treatment and intervention may be required if anxiety prevents them from participating in school or social activities, and it interferes with their ability to do the things that other kids can easily do.

Let us discuss the symptoms and treatment options for childhood anxiety.

How Common Is Anxiety In Kids?

Health experts estimate that 40 million kids and teenagers in the United States today suffer from anxiety disorders, with health care costs reaching a staggering $42 billion a year.

Research has also indicated that 20 percent of school-aged children and adolescents are diagnosed with mild to moderate anxiety problems, such as separation and social anxiety.

A number of studies have also reported that as much as 50 percent of children and adolescents in the general school population report at least one kid suffering from symptoms of separation anxiety.

Most parents will agree with a couple instances where their child didn't want to go to school - however, repeated occurrences and physical symptoms ("my tummy hurts") can quickly disrupt family life and schedules.

So when does it go from being a bit anxious to a serious problem that needs professional help? Generally, if the child is doing poor in school, not participating in social events and disrupting family life such that the parents can no longer deal with it is a sign that something more must be done.

It has been recognized that, if left untreated, anxiety and panic disorders will continue into adulthood. This can lead to breakdown in marriages, failed careers and poor lifestyle choices.

It is definitely best to treat these problems now.


Alone in the dark
Alone in the dark | Source

How Does Anxiety Affect Children?

Apart from feeling highly anxious, a child's thinking can be severely affected as well. Kids who suffer from anxiety disorders like phobias, separation anxiety and overanxiousness often create their own strategies for managing fearful situations.

However, these often lead them to avoid social gatherings and evade social interactions. Anxiety also can result to a host of uncomfortable physical difficulties like stomach aches, sleeplessness, headaches, diarrhea, tiredness, difficulty concentrating and irritability.

Symptoms can include:

  • Crying, anger and irritability
  • Problems sleeping, or waking up from nightmares
  • Physical ailments like stomach aches, diarrhea, vomiting, aches and pains
  • Pessimism, low self-esteem and imagining worst case scenarios
  • Difficulty eating or having no appetite
  • Being obsessed with perfection
  • Withdrawing from family and school events and avoiding certain locations


Mother and Daughter
Mother and Daughter | Source

Treatments - What You as the Parent Can Do

Every child will have certain fears and anxieties. It's when they grow far out of proportion to the reality that you should be concerned and think of treatments.

The first thing you can do is identify what is causing your child's anxiety. Is it a social phobia? Separation anxiety? Exaggerated phobias?

Practice the following to help your child:

Structured time - establish daily routines and repetition. Many children are anxious simply because they feel they have no sense of control over their disorganized daily life. Setting a regular bedtime routine, for instance, gives a sense of comfort and predictability.

If your child at first protests over "going to bed too early", be firm. Setting limits and structures will in itself be a source of anxiety! After a few days, your child will feel more comfortable with this new routine.

Examine your own life - Do you have a hectic schedule and unpredictable work hours? This may be the cause of your child's anxieties. By never being around during predictable periods, your child will exaggerate their feelings of loneliness, separation anxiety because they are not sure when you are around, and guilt over being a burden if you are too busy.

If you can't change your own schedule, try to have one predictable period, the same time every day, that you can spend with your child. They will then have a structured focal point they can reference on a daily basis.

Exercise - Exercise releases endorphins and other "feel good" hormones that relieve stress and help in relaxation. This is true in adults as well. If your child has problems, and you notice they spend too much time at the television or computer, it could be this "couch time" that is making things worse.

Set limits - Setting limits and enforcing consequences for breaking those limits will actually give your child more security. Knowing restrictions gives your child a sense of stability, as they can visualize and sense boundaries in their lives.

Communication & Feelings - Since children can't really understand what is happening to them, teach them about feelings. Talk about happiness and sadness, and what it looks like. Describe "butterflies in the tummy" as anxiety, tightness in the chest, and teach them to open up to what they're feeling.

Don't criticize, and let them know that they are safe with quiet time together, hugging or having them cuddle on your lap. Have them talk about their fears, and respect them. Let them know that you are on their side - don't tell them to "grow up" or laugh at their fears.

Make sure you talk to your child's teacher and counselor, so they are aware of your concerns and can help while at school.


Effective Treatments for Childhood Anxiety - What a Professional Can Offer

The psychological treatments for anxiety in children include the use of effective coping skills, relaxation techniques, and techniques for replacing negative thoughts with helpful self-talk.

If the child suffers from phobias, the treatment could involve slowly exposing him or her to the feared situation or object. Families will also be involved in the treatment, as they can help the child learn new coping skills and practices.

There are also school and clinic-based social and emotional learning programs or methods which help the child develop resiliency and very helpful coping mechanisms. The mental health expert also talks to the child, and the family members, and they are asked to fill out questionnaires as well as participate in a series of tests. This helps the doctor make the right diagnosis and treatment plan for the child.

Disclaimer: Please do not read this article as a substitute for medical advice. Treat it as a guide, and please contact a professional child therapist if you are unsure.

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