Just like adults, children often struggle with anxiety too. They often worry about their grades, fitting in with their peers, or separating from parents. Although most children will worry, some kids experience excessive distress that causes severe impairment in their academic and social functioning. A study showed that 8% of teens between 13-18 years old reported having an anxiety disorder, with many of the symptoms appearing at the age of 6 (NIMH).
How do you know your child is struggling with anxiety? Here are some signs that may indicate that symptoms of anxiety:
1. Experiences excessive fear that is developmentally inappropriate
2. Has difficulty with transitions or coping with unexpected changes in their routine
3. Avoids or refuses to participate in particular activities
4. Experiences physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches
5. Cries, is irritable, or displays anger outbursts due to anxiety.
Sometimes it can be very frustrating to parent a child who feels anxious. However, there are helpful strategies that can ease the worry a child experiences. Here are some tips for parents and caregivers to consider if the child struggling with anxiety.
1. Label their feelings. Talk to your child about what anxiety is and the symptoms they may be experiencing. Parents should emphasize that anxiety is a normal feeling and that everyone experiences worry. Giving the anxiety a label or name will empower the child to challenge their fears.
2. Model how to cope with stressful situations. Parents are in the best position to show how to cope with anxiety. Try to demonstrate problem-solving strategies or positive self-talk when there opportunities arise.
3. Praise for small accomplishments. Children who worry often avoid things or situations that they are anxious of. Provide positive reinforcement when attempt to face their fears or take steps to challenge their worries.
4. Warning for transitions. If possible, give your child some warning of when transitions will be coming up. For example, preparing your child ready to start or end school can begin a few weeks prior to the transition. Give them opportunity to ask questions and express their worries.
5. Don’t punish your child for behaviors related to anxiety. Sometimes children may be irritable or oppositional. Often anxious children are not be trying to be purposefully disobedient but these behaviors are a result of avoiding things they fear and worry.
6. Seek professional help. If the anxiety becomes severe and interferes with your child’s functioning, it may be time to consider getting help. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment to address anxiety.
Information from the National Institute of Mental Health (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders-in-children-and-adolescents/index.shtml) and “Practice Parameter for the Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents with Anxiety Disorders.” 2007. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 46(2): 267-283.