Anxiety in Children – What Parents Need to Know & How to Help
Anxiety in kids is a lot more common than we adults acknowledge. So I decided to start writing a bit more about anxiety and how it manifests in kids’ behavior. Believe it or not even toddlers and babies experience anxiety.
I have a child who suffers a great deal from anxiety. His anxiety manifests in OCD type behavior where he asks the same question again and again. It also shows up in explosive behavior at home. He has trouble sitting in any uncertain situation or in any lull of activity.
One important point is that a child’s worries are not immediately recognized by an adult. A kid’s view and experience in the world vary from an adult. So, understanding anxiety in kids requires us to recognize the signs and behaviors. Furthermore, it also requires us to shift our perspective.
Anxiety in Kids – What Parents Need to Know
Kids may worry about grades, fitting in at school, or soccer practice cancellation. My son worries about how to fill up his time. In other words, one of his favorite phrases is “I’m bored” when he feels this anxiety. Most kids recover by going ride a bike or building with legos. Yet, anxious kids can get stuck.
Most kids’ worries come and go. In other words, kids forget their fears as they find activities to fill the void. For example, a typical child may choose a board game, work on homework, or find a friend.
Child Anxiety Symptoms
The Harvard Health Blog writes“Anxious children may be clingy, startle easily, cry or have tantrums, sleep poorly, and have headaches or stomachaches. But anxiety is not all bad.”
I appreciate the last part of the quote. Anxiety often comes alongside extreme intelligence and creativity, or other positive attributes. Gifted children often struggle a great deal with anxiety.
Some children’s anxiety is more persistent. Distraction doesn’t work for these kids. Their fears distract them from becoming engaged in life. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the anxiety that will not go away and has no clear source. When a child has suffered in this way for a period of six months or longer, he may have GAD.
What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Children suffering from anxiety feel excessive worry not focussed on one trigger. Their worry may range from mild to debilitating. Also, they cannot tell that their worry is out of proportion to reality.
A combination of physical and environmental factors cause generalized anxiety. According to mayoclinic.com, the brain’s balance of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine is the key to anxiety.
Genetic predisposition to anxiety can also lead to illness, as can trauma and stress. Usually, several factors work together to trigger the condition. A combination of psychotherapy and medication is the most effective treatment for sufferers of GAD.
With that said, a combination of professional treatment and work at home is the best approach. Helping your child maintain a stable and healthy lifestyle will help her emotions.
How to Help a Child with Anxiety
Adequate sleep is crucial for regulating anxiety. Stabilizing your child’s blood sugar levels can also help. Frequent small meals with limited sugar and adequate protein is the key. Exercise will help your child burn off excess adrenaline and calm his body.
Your response to your child’s anxiety can also help her cope with her disorder. Remember that she has little control over her worry and that she cannot “stop.” Understand that learning new patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving will take time.
Take your child’s expressed emotions at face-value. She is feeling a strong emotion, not dramatizing or manipulating. Confirm and acknowledge the intense emotions. Consider asking questions about how she feels, physically and emotionally, at that moment.
Generalized anxiety disorder is a heavy burden for a child to carry. With professional help and support, that burden will lift and a child can learn to experience a typical childhood.