Throughout their childhood, kids naturally experience anxiety. They may fear separation from parents, monsters or loud noises. But when does this normal anxiety become an issue? Anxiety is often a difficult diagnosis because of its internal nature. Unlike sadness or depression, it doesn’t always manifest as a lack of interest in activities or feelings of helplessness or hopelessness. Symptoms might include trouble sleeping, irritability, stomachaches and restlessness or fatigue during the day.
In many cases, anxiety is normal and passes once the child has dealt with the situation causing it. For instance, children frequently worry about starting a new school but typically get over this fear within a few days of actually going to school. However, if a child is consistently anxious and has difficulty functioning, this could be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
To be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, children must experience symptoms most days for at least six months. In addition to the general worries that all children have, those with an anxiety disorder have obsessive, uncontrollable thoughts and fears. They also develop rules for themselves that they feel they must follow in order to control their anxiety. These are called obsessions and compulsions. They might also have specific phobias, which are intense fears of certain things such as bugs, dark places or thunder.
Talk therapy is an important component of treatment for children with an anxiety disorder. Therapists will work with the child and their family to identify and address the root causes of the anxiety, teach coping skills, and offer support. Medication may also be recommended, especially if a child isn’t making progress in talk therapy alone or the symptoms are severe. Some parents are uncomfortable with the idea of their child taking medications, but it is an important part of treatment for some children.
Parents can help alleviate their children’s anxieties by providing support and creating opportunities for them to open up. For example, instead of telling a child not to worry, try encouraging them by reminding them that it’s okay to be afraid and by reaffirming your love for them.
Parents can also model healthy coping strategies and give their children positive feedback when they do well in a challenging situation. For example, if your child is worried about failing a math test, reassure them that you’ll be proud of them if they study hard. Additionally, if your child complains of having a headache or stomachache, encourage them to drink water and take deep breaths to relax. Finally, parents can assess their own mental health and consider how their anxiety might be affecting their children. Children are incredibly perceptive and tend to mimic their parents’ behaviors. If your child is constantly yelling at the sight of a bug, they will probably do the same when they grow up.