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.
5. Guided Imagery for kids:
Guided imagery works great with children of all ages. Ask your child to name 3 things they can see, 3 sounds they hear, and encourage them to move 3 body parts to relieve the tension that comes from anxiety.
6. Supportive parenting:
It is critical for you as the caretaker to be involved in your child’s treatment process. Study has shown that an increase in parenting involvement has aided in a decrease in anxiety in children.
With the help of your child’s private care provider, they will be able to determine which or if your child will need medication to help manage their anxiety.
8. Talk to a mental health professional:
It is important for your child to have a safe space where they can begin to understand their anxiety, give a name to it and separate themselves from it. A mental health professional will assist in processing and finding coping skills with your child.
Remind your child to stop and become aware of their breath…..This moment will pass.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention, (2021). Anxiety and Depression in Children. https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/depression.html
Coltrera, Francesca (2018, August). Anxiety in Children. Harvard Health Publishing, (),. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/anxiety-in-children-2018081414532
About the Writer...
Charis Acheampong is originally from Congo, Africa. Born and raised there until relocating to the United States at the age of 13. Charis is a Clinical Intern at Wellness Tree Counseling Services and hopes to practice in both English and her native language French. Charis is a firm believer in taking care of your mental and emotional state as we do our physical. Therapy is a joint venture between the therapist and client to find solutions.
Our mission at Wellness Tree Counseling Services is to promote wellness through a culturally sensitive lens so that individuals, families and communities are encouraged to rise to their full potential and engage life in meaningful ways. To learn more about our services, please visit www.wellnesstreecounseling.com