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Anxiety in Children

Have you ever wondered how anxiety presents itself in children? Are your children displaying symptoms and you don’t know how to name them? Is it ADHD or is it anxiety?

According to the Center for Disease Control, when a child does not outgrow the fears and worries that are typical in young children, or when there are so many fears and worries that interfere with school, home or play activities, the child may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder (CDC, 2021).

Anxiety presents itself differently in children than it would normally do in adults. Anxiety symptoms can include worry, fear, anger, irritability, trouble sleeping, clinginess, easily startled, crying, or would often throw tantrums, as well as physical symptoms such as stomachaches, fatigue, or headaches. Oftentimes these symptoms will go unnoticed because some children choose to keep to themselves, and more times than not, your child will tell you that they are experiencing these symptoms. Some children are more vulnerable to anxiety based on these few factors: Biological factors ( genes and brain wiring), Psychological factors ( temperament and coping strategies), and environmental factors ( anxious parenting or troubling early childhood experiences and environment) (Coltrera, 2018).

As a caretaker, it is normal to not know right away what to do when a child is experiencing these symptoms. Anxiety is not always bad; anxiety can often alert us of when danger is near. Children are always said to be good judges of character and oftentimes will sense danger from a mile away. Anxiety becomes a problem when your child can no longer function due to their symptoms.

These are a few treatment options or ways parents can help manage anxiety symptoms in their children.

1. Exposure and response prevention:

In exposure therapy, you are trying to change the behavior to get rid of the fear. Expose your children to things that trigger their anxiety (new places, new food, separation), as you do it in incremental steps, your child will become more accustomed to each trigger.

2. Five finger breathing:

Invite your child to take slow breaths as they trace fingers up and down, pausing at each fingertip.

3. Give a name to it:

Help your child to give a name to their anxiety, and remind them that they are not those thoughts. This moment will come and pass.

4. Sleep routine:

Just like adults need at least 8-9 hours of sleep, children also need their rest. Encourage and help your child in developing a great bedtime routine ( brush teeth, read a book, dim lights, turn on calming music for sleep). When your child is well-rested they are more likely to be in a great mood.