Anxiety is among the most common mental health issues for both children and adults. About 20% of children and adolescents are affected by anxiety. If untreated, child anxiety can cross to adulthood or turn into depression.
It is not uncommon to hear parents say that “from a young age, they knew that something was different with a kid” but did not realize it was anxiety. By looking at the kid and doing nothing, the condition continues to worsen. Therefore, how much do you know about childhood anxiety?
This post digs deeper into child anxiety to demonstrate what it is, symptoms and causes. It further outlines the best strategies that you can use to overcome child anxiety.
What is Child Anxiety?
Child anxiety is a mental condition that causes extreme worry and fear. It could also result to change in the kid’s mood, eating, sleep and other behaviors. The term child anxiety is used to denote a number of anxiety disorders that affect children.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: This type of disorder makes a kid worry about a wide range of things. Common things that often make kids worried include making mistakes, tests, friends and homework.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder: This form of anxiety develops when a child is left by a parent or guardian. The problem could persist even at adulthood when moving away from home or parent. Some end up missing classes while others find it very difficult to sleep.
- Social Phobia: With this form of anxiety, a child feels too afraid about what others will say about him. Therefore, the kid might become withdrawn from the fear of doing something that is embarrassing.
- Specific Phobia: Kids can develop fears of specific things such as big animals, monsters, darkness, or even loud noises. The phobia makes kids avoid going to places where he can experience the things he fears.
- Selective Mutism: This is an extreme type of child anxiety that makes him avoid talking completely when with others, kids, school or outside the house. However, the kid talks well when at home or with people close to him.
Anxiety in kids, just like adults, is a normal thing. However, when the kid cannot get over it even after being comforted, the chances are that it has developed into a childhood anxiety disorder. The symptoms should be noted depending on the way the kid behaves at home, school and his social life. Here are some of the symptoms to look for:
- Being restless, hyperactive, and distracted.
- Starts sweating and shaking when faced with intimidating situations.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Regular headaches and stomachaches even without a causative medical condition.
- Getting grouchy without clear reasons.
- Being afraid of making even slight mistakes.
- Being worried of things far away into the future.
- Regular nightmares.
- Staying alone when others are playing or taking their lunch.
- Avoiding social situations such as birthdays with other kids.
- Staying silent when expected to work together with other kids.
In order to establish what the problem is, it is prudent to note down the behavior. For example, if you notice that the kid wants to stay indoors all the time as others are playing in the field, it might be a sign of childhood anxiety.
All children are born with ‘flight or fight’ response. Indeed, it is this response that used to help the early man escape from threats such as predators. When a kid is stressed or afraid, the part of his brain that controls flight or fight kicks in and causes fearful feelings referred to as anxiety. When the anxiety becomes persistent, difficult to control and starts affecting personal behavior, it becomes a serious disorder. Here are the main causes of anxiety disorders in children.
The brain of a human being is made of many transmitters that send messages and control how a person feels. Good examples are dopamine and serotonin. When there is an imbalance of these neurotransmitters, a kid can develop anxiety.
The family can be a great factor that contributes to a child’s anxiety. If you suffered anxiety at some point in your life, the chances of your kid suffering from anxiety are high.
Parents can also be a causative factor of child anxiety without knowing. For example, a parent who is a perfectionist might make his kid to develop fear of trying new things to avoid failure. Besides, if you allow the kid to be around when you are feeling anxious, the kid could develop similar fear.
The environment that your child is exposed to could increase or decrease the risk of developing anxiety. If a child experiences trauma, he is likely to develop anxiety because his coping mechanisms are still fragile. Also, if you abandon a child, he is likely to get severe anxiety disorder. Other environmental conditions that can cause anxiety in kids include divorce, isolation, mental and physical abuse, and death.
Today, many kids are using technology especially social media to connect with friends and play. However, some information available on social media might be too difficult for kids to synthesis and result in anxiety. In other cases, kids can easily fall in the hands of bullies resulting to fear and anxiety.
How to Overcome Child Anxiety (naturally)
When childhood anxiety is heightened, most parents engage the protection gear. They try to assist them solving the problems around them and avoid some anxiety triggers. Though this might be the natural thing to do, you cannot protect a kid from experiencing anxiety. However, they can help them learn to overcome anxiety. Here are some of the common methods that you can use to overcome child anxiety.
If you shield or assist the kid to avoid triggers, he/she will never learn to cope and get out of problems. Take the example of a kid that becomes very fearful when around dogs. If you help the kid stay away from dogs, you will be reinforcing the negative thought.
The better option is to desensitize the kid by taking small steps such as watching dogs play on a video, viewing them from distance, and finally visiting a calm dog. This way, the kid can learn how to overcome his fears.
Set Clear and Achievable Goals
When setting expectations for kids with anxiety, it is okay to put them at par with those of non-anxious kids. However, you need to move at a slower pace to ensure the kid with anxiety understand everything. For example, if your other kids prefer to attend every birthday, you might find the anxious child wanting to avoid all of them. Therefore, you can get the anxious kid to get involved by organizing smaller parties without overwhelming triggers such as loud music and bounce houses.
When you draw clear expectations, it becomes easy for the kid with anxiety to set achievable benchmarks.
Allow the Kid to Worry
Some amount of worry is important because it allows people to learn and explore alternatives. Provide the kid with some uninterrupted time every day to worry and evaluate solutions. With time, the kid will learn how to handle anxiety and solve every issue he encounters.
Help the Kid to Go Back to the Basics
Some of the methods that you can use to address anxiety in a kid include helping him to go back to the basics. This means helping the kid to slow down and eat balanced meals. Once in good health, he is likely to face and counter fear more effectively than when he is unhealthy. Here are the basics to consider:
- Getting enough sleep.
- Taking plenty of water.
- Eating healthy meals with all the nutrients.
- Daily exercises.
- Ample relaxing time to think and develop strategies to address issues facing him.
Train your Kid the Right Coping Skills
One of the most recommended methods of empowering your kid is equipping him with coping skills. These are strategies that can assist him to overcome every type of anxiety and become a better person. These skills include deep breathing, muscle relaxation, seeking assistance from an adult, and talking back to the worries.
When anxious thoughts cycle kicks in, it becomes overwhelming because the kid develops feelings of helplessness. The mind of your kid becomes entangled by ‘I cannot’ and ‘what ifs’. To assist your kid, it is important to focus on positive reframing to help the kid take control over his thoughts.
The Final Take
Child anxiety is one of the disorders that can have major impacts on the kid’s lifestyle if it goes untreated. Therefore, it is prudent to observe your kid carefully to note changes in behavior that could be caused by anxiety. But the good thing is that child anxiety can be treated to give your kid an impressive and productive development. Note that the main goal should be empowering him to solve issues that come his way as opposed to helping him avoid them.
Do not let your kid get devoured by child anxiety; use this guide to help him overcome it naturally.