As parents, you want your children to experience as positive and happy a life as possible. But some stress is inevitable. Whether it be an upcoming exam or a fight with a friend, kids experience stress, anxiety, and fear. This is normal. However, if it intensifies and begins to interfere with a child’s daily life, it can be a serious concern that warrants professional help.
We understand that it can be difficult to figure out whether your child is experiencing normal stress and worry — or if there is a more serious, underlying problem. So, to help, we have created this guide for parents on how to help a child with anxiety. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know to support your child.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a term to describe feelings of nervousness, worry, or being unsettled. Different from stress or fear which are caused by external triggers, anxiety is an anticipation of a threat in the future. It could be something as simple as an upcoming exam or recital, or something bigger like moving to a new school or having a fight with a friend. Experiencing some anxiety is normal and natural. However, if it is intense, goes on for extended periods of time, or interferes with kids having a normal life, then it can require professional help from a trusted pediatrician or mental health specialist.
Parents should know that while anxiety is treatable, it can’t be turned on and off. It is not a choice and it is not a child’s way to get attention. Even if something seems normal, simple, or easy to you, it can be very difficult and worrisome to a child with anxiety. For example, difficulty in social situations might not be caused by shyness or trouble making friends. It could be anxiety. Every child’s experience is unique and therefore requires treatment that is tailor fit to the child’s needs. For some, providing anxiety coping skills for kids to try with their parents can be an excellent way to help improve their quality of life. But for others, therapy or even medication can be necessary to make significant improvements.
Signs of Anxiety
As a parent, it is crucial to understand that anxiety can be accompanied by physical symptoms, emotional symptoms, or behavioral symptoms. It can even be all three. So, be open minded when you take a look at your child’s unusual habits, anxiety could be the culprit. In addition to common emotional symptoms such as stress, worry, and uneasiness, common physical symptoms of anxiety include headaches, stomachaches, nausea, vomiting, heart racing, shortness of breath, low energy levels, little or poor quality sleep (often with frequent nightmares).
Common behavioral symptoms can often depend on the type of anxiety a child is experiencing. A few common types include general anxiety, separation anxiety, social anxiety, panic, selective mutism, and specific phobias. Behavioral symptoms could be moving around a lot and difficulty staying still, avoiding events such as time with friends or classes, spending increased or excessive time alone, or talking about fears and worries very often. Anxiety in kids might also be characterized by frequent irritability, agitation, or throwing tantrums often. Some children also have panic attacks, or several minutes of very intense anxiety accompanied by multiple physical symptoms such as a racing heart, trouble breathing, sweating, chest pain, dizziness, stomach aches, nausea, or vomiting.
One of the best ways to help children with anxiety is to talk them through it. Ask them what they are feeling and what kinds of things make them feel worried. You can share what made you worried when you were their age to encourage them to open up too. Once you have pinned down what they are anxious about and how they feel about certain triggers, you can help them recognize it when it happens.
Explaining anxiety to kids is about more than just definitions. Help your child recognize the physical and emotional symptoms they often experience with anxiety. Maybe it is a stomachache, maybe it is a tantrum, or maybe they start to breathe super fast. Do your best to help them understand that while it is normal to feel anxiety, the symptoms they are experiencing are the result of thoughts passing through their mind, not an active threat or dangerous situation. This can help kids realize that there are ways to calm themselves down and feel better.
When kids are experiencing anxiety, you can do your best to gently help them through it. Talk to them about where in their body they feel symptoms of anxiety and encourage them to draw or write it down so they can recognize it in the future. You can also help them find peace in moments of intense stress. One excellent way is to practice breathing exercises, meditations, or yoga together. Work on developing calming visual exercises such as finding a place in their imagination that feels safe. Maybe it was a place they loved on vacation or their grandma’s house.
In many cases, however, cognitive behavioral therapy, or talk therapy, is the most effective way to support your child. Psychologists are trained to offer anxiety coping skills for kids that work for their specific needs and experiences. It can be especially helpful for parents to participate in therapy sometimes to gain valuable insight on how to help a child with anxiety and best respond in times of extreme stress.
When to Seek Help
In some cases, coping strategies are not enough to make a substantial improvement in a child’s life. Talking to a doctor about your child’s experience can be instrumental to ensuring that they get the right treatment. This is especially the case if children exhibit related symptoms after a stressful life event, if anxiety runs in the family, or if someone in the child’s life has similar symptoms. These can all be clues that a child may be prone to anxiety. If you are worried, it is good to talk to a doctor anyway to get a professional opinion, a path to diagnosis, and offer options for non-medical, and if necessary, medical treatment methods.
If the symptoms are shared with your child’s pediatrician, they will assess the symptoms, and if necessary, refer you to a specialist such as a trained therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist for formal diagnosis. While in more severe cases anxiety medication for children can be helpful, it is important to note that in many cases it is not necessary for effective treatment.
At Coastal Kids, we know that a child’s mental health is equally as important as their physical health. Anxiety can not only impact a child’s emotional well being, but their entire way of life, too. Our mission is to support children by providing the best care possible and support parents by offering the best information on how they can care for their children too. If you are concerned that your child might have anxiety, please do not hesitate to reach out to a medical professional. Getting help for a child early can be instrumental in helping them achieve the most positive life possible. To make an appointment with one of our knowledgeable and passionate pediatricians, visit us at www.coastalkids.com.