Overcast   66.0F  |  Forecast »

Anxiety Issues and Kids

Kids commonly worry about school, friends – even world issues. But when is it a sign of an anxiety disorder – and what can parents do?

"I don't feel good." It's a common childhood complaint that sends parents hunting for answers. Stomachaches, head colds and sore throats are likely culprits. But for some kids, these symptoms – and others, like racing hearts or crippling sense of panic – could be signs of anxiety.

Is it a disorder?

All people, including kids, experience anxiety, says Eric Herman, a psychologist with Children's Hospital of Michigan. "It's a human emotion," he says. A child's first experience could be before age 1, if infants experience separation anxiety.

There are healthy and extreme forms. "It actually can be very helpful in a healthy amount. It helps us to know what's dangerous and be appropriately afraid of certain things," Herman says. But "If it impacts our functioning or brings with it a lot of distress, then it becomes a problem."

One factor is how the anxiety is impacting a child's life. "Is it interfering with their development?" Herman says. Kids with social anxiety, for example, may avoid situations that they would like to participate in, such as playing with friends, but feel that they "just can't," he says.

Other signs include withdrawn behavior, phobias, refusal to attend family functions or perfectionism. Some kids have obsessive-compulsive tendencies, says Dr. David Averbach, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Novi's Behavior Assessments, P.C.

Worries may range from the everyday to worst-case scenarios – fires, terrorist attacks or death. Nightmares, night terrors nervousness at night are possible co-symptoms.

Proper diagnosis

Anxiety can become a problem at any age, and pediatricians may or may not notice the signs. For younger kids, reasons tend to be general, says Averbach: "In a lot of cases, it is genetic and environmental."

Diagnosing a disorder also involves looking at how long the anxiety lasts. One day may be a fluke, but a period of months is an issue, Herman says. "This is a common problem," he adds, noting that anxiety may also co-exist with other health problems. If there's a family history of anxiety, pay closer attention to possible signs.

Many kids with anxiety come off as shy or quiet and are often good students, Averbach adds, making recognition difficult for teachers. That means parents, who are "experts in their own kids," are crucial. And early identification can help avoid more serious anxiety problems in adulthood.

Treatment

Once an anxiety problem is identified, various treatments are available. Options may include therapy, school support, family education and, sometimes, medication. Don't be afraid to schedule the appointment – or get a second opinion, Averbach says.

In those cases where medication is part of a chosen treatment plan, he adds, know that it's not necessarily a lifelong thing.

"The goal of medication is to cut down the symptoms, so that the child and the family can begin to heal and work on problem-solving techniques," he notes. "Once that occurs, they go off medication and they do fine."

All cases are different, he adds, and treatment options and results will vary depending on the individual child and family.

Minimizing anxiety

Herman says all parents can help by modeling positive behavior on handling stress. "If (parents) are anxious and overwhelmed, it's contagious," Herman says.

Herman also encourages parents to validate their children's feelings. "Right away, we want to say there's nothing to be afraid about. 'There's no monster'; 'It's only a small rain storm,'" he says. "But it's important to listen and start with something like, 'I can see why you feel that way.'"

After validating your child's feelings, softly assuage the anxiety by pointing out that monsters aren't real, for instance. You might also need to alter some of what you say or do to avoid "triggers," says Warren mom Shannon Sabados – whose daughter, now 9, has anxiety issues.

"We don't watch scary things. We don't talk about sick people," she says. Sabados advises other parents in similar situations to seek professional help.

"It's so amazing how easy it is to tell now when she is going to have an anxiety attack," she adds.

Add your comment:
Advertisement

More »Latest Articles & Blog Posts

Mushroom Recipes for a Family Meal

Mushroom Recipes for a Family Meal

Mushrooms can be a tough sell with picky eaters but these dishes will entice them to try a bite – or two!

Tennessee Law Prevents Parents from Giving Child a Hybrid Last Name

Tennessee Law Prevents Parents from Giving Child a Hybrid Last Name

Carl Abramson and Kim Sarubbi mashed together their surnames for their first two kids, but Tennessee law says they can't use the last name 'Sabr' for baby No. 3.

Sticky Fingers Duct Tape Book Offers Easy Bow Making How-To

Sticky Fingers Duct Tape Book Offers Easy Bow Making How-To

Sophie Maletsky's new guide, published by Zest Books, is packed with fun crafts and DIY ideas kids and families can make out of colorful duct tape.

Paper Craft Fun with Handprints, Garland and Kawaii Art

Paper Craft Fun with Handprints, Garland and Kawaii Art

This versatile craft material transforms into an acorn fall creation, decorative ribbon, cute Japanese critters and cool dividers for your kid's closet.

How to Prevent Your Child from Choking

How to Prevent Your Child from Choking

Mealtime can turn from pleasant to panic in a matter of seconds. Protect your child from this mishap with our list of dos and don’ts.

YouTube Moms Parody Iggy Azalea's Hit Song 'Fancy'

YouTube Moms Parody Iggy Azalea's Hit Song 'Fancy'

The rapper's had the hit of the summer, but these clever mothers made it their own, riffing on pregnancy and motherhood in some pretty funny viral videos.

Biscuit Recipes: From Classic to Chocolate

Biscuit Recipes: From Classic to Chocolate

September is National Biscuit Month, but you can bake these any time! These recipes, including classic biscuits from Betty Crocker and cornmeal biscuits from Martha Stewart, will have you reaching...

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement