Anxiety is a normal and healthy part of life, but when it becomes excessive, it can have negative effects on a child’s mental health. Anxiety symptoms can include physical symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches, cognitive symptoms such as excessive worry or difficulty concentrating, and behavioral symptoms such as avoiding activities or acting aggressively.
Kids who have anxiety may also exhibit emotional symptoms such as irritability or sadness. Children who experience these symptoms often struggle at school, in their social relationships, and in their work. Symptoms of anxiety may be triggered by situations that make a child feel vulnerable or in danger, such as a public speech or when they are around strangers.
Children who are experiencing these symptoms should be screened by a healthcare professional, such as a therapist or psychologist. The therapist can help a child learn to manage their anxiety and develop coping skills to deal with it. They can also prescribe medications that will calm a child’s anxious mind and body, when necessary.
Several well-studied child self-report screening tools are available for anxiety disorders, including the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Disorders (SCARED) and the Spence Children’s Anxiety Scale. These tests can be administered at the pediatrician’s office and used to determine whether a child might benefit from professional treatment.
Screening for anxiety is an important part of a child’s yearly checkup. By asking a few simple questions, the doctor can detect and treat any signs of anxiety before it escalates to a full-blown anxiety disorder.
The USPSTF recommends that all providers screen children for anxiety by using the SCAS-Child, a short questionnaire. There is also a SCAS-Parent version of this assessment that can be used to assess parents’ concerns. In addition to using the SCAS, clinicians should be aware of any reported concerns by patients and their families, discuss risk factors with each patient, and refer them to appropriate mental health services if needed.
It is also important to help children practice active strategies for managing test anxiety. This can include reviewing the test format, practicing with mock tests, and focusing on big themes rather than specific questions. Reminding them that it’s okay to skip a question or take a break is also a helpful strategy for reducing their stress.
Lastly, it is important to understand that the best way to overcome test anxiety is to actually engage in the activity they fear. Although this course of action might increase the child’s distress initially, it will reduce their chances of experiencing more serious test anxiety in the future. This will also help them build confidence in their ability to do well on tests, and it may even alleviate some of their current anxiety symptoms, such as stomachaches or headaches. In some cases, a child might also qualify for accommodations during the test to calm their nerves, such as extra time or getting to go back to a question they are stuck on. This can be especially helpful for kids who are prone to test anxiety due to their temperament or learning disabilities.