All children experience anxiety and fear from time to time. Whether it’s a monster in a closet, a test at school, or a stage performance, kids have situations that make them worry as much as adults. Or even stronger: adults still cope better with anxiety – they have more experience and less faith in the monsters under the bed.
But sometimes anxiety in children goes beyond the usual daily worries to a disorder that prevents them from doing the right thing. It may even prevent you from enjoying your childhood the way they write in books.
How do you know if the child’s anxiety has become more than just fleeting anxiety and fear? We will tell you about the main markers of problem situations and what to do about it.
Symptoms of increased anxiety in children
First, ask yourself a few questions that will help you understand if this is a temporary fear or something more serious.
- Does the child express anxiety or anxiety for several weeks, with more “bad” days?
- Does he have trouble sleeping at night? If you are unsure (the child may not be able to tell), you may notice that he or she seems unusually sleepy or tired during the day.
- Is he having trouble concentrating?
- Does he seem unusually irritable or is he easily upset?
Signs that you need if you suspect increased anxiety are as follows:
- the child has difficulty concentrating;
- he does not sleep well or wakes up at night from nightmares;
- eats improperly;
- quickly becomes angry or irritable, and gets out of control during outbursts of anger;
- constantly expresses disturbing or negative thoughts;
- he has a feeling of tension and nervousness. It can also be expressed in headaches, abdominal pain, feeling unwell, frequent trips to the toilet, urinary incontinence, and calomazation ;
- cries a lot, “eyes are in a wet place”, becomes “sticky”, does not want to let go of his parents.
Why are some children anxious and others not?
In the development of anxiety disorders, there are four main reasons – half of them are physiological, the other half is social and psychological. The reasons that “work” at the level of the body are more important, so you should not immediately blame yourself (or those whose child is afraid of literally everything) for the wrong upbringing.
The main causes of increased anxiety:
- Genetics. A child who has a family member with an anxiety disorder is more likely to be anxious too. Children can inherit genes that make them prone to anxiety.
- Chemistry of the brain. Genes help direct the work of brain chemicals, neurotransmitters . If certain brain chemicals are in short supply, it can cause anxiety. This can be corrected with drugs.
Genetic disorders can work the other way around. Science knows “cyborg children”: they do not feel pain, fear, hunger, do not want to sleep at all.
- Life situation. What happens in a child’s life can be serious stress. Loss, serious illness, death of a loved one, travel, abuse can lead children to anxiety.
- Learned behavior. A person who grew up in a family where others are afraid or worried can also unwittingly “teach” a child to be afraid of everything.
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorders are more likely to have problems with anxiety.
There are several different types of anxiety disorders that can affect children.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Children with GAD are overly concerned about many things at once: school, their own safety and health, the health of family and friends, money and relationships in their family.
Children may be afraid of situations that are difficult to suspect of negative consequences. Anxiety can be caused by thoughts of school breaks, dinners, birthday celebrations, walks, as well as a war somewhere far away, the weather for tomorrow, a future wedding …
The list goes on and on, and in their fantasies, the worst thing you can imagine happens. Someone keeps everything to themselves, someone shares their fears – but the persuasion of adults does not help get rid of anxiety.
GAD can cause physical symptoms of the disorder – often headaches and abdominal pain. This disorder also often leads to self-isolation: it makes it easier to endure the burden of anxiety.
- Panic disorder
A panic attack is a sudden, intense attack of anxiety with no apparent external cause. The heart is pounding, shortness of breath, trembling, dizziness begins.
If there were more than two such episodes, and the person is afraid that they may recur, this is called panic disorder.
- Separation anxiety
All children have a certain level of separation anxiety. This is a normal developmental phase in infants and toddlers. Even older children can sometimes “stick” to their parents, especially in new conditions.
But older children who are unusually upset when they leave a parent or loved one, who have complacency issues after goodbye, or who are very homesick and upset when they are away from home at school, camp, or even at partying may have separation anxiety disorder. And this is the same official diagnosis as GAD and panic disorder.
- Social phobia
A child with social phobia experiences intense anxiety and shyness in normal everyday situations in the presence of other people. This is more than just shyness.
A socially anxious child fears that he will embarrass himself by talking to classmates, answering questions at school, or performing other routine activities that involve interacting with others.
This fear can keep the child from answering lessons and participating in various activities. Some children may even find that they cannot speak at all in some situations – this is selective mutism , in which the child communicates at home with family, but cannot utter a word in the presence of other people.
- Specific phobias
It is normal for an early age to be afraid of the dark, monsters, large animals, or loud noises such as thunder or fireworks. In most cases, when children are afraid, adults can help them feel safe and calm again.
But a phobia is a stronger, even extremely pronounced and prolonged fear of something specific.
With a certain phobia, children may experience extreme fear of things like animals, spiders, needles or gunshots, blood, vomit, thunderstorms, people in suits, cracks in the pavement, darkness. The list of phobias options is huge (and adults have them too).
How can I help my child?
First of all, it is important to talk to your child about their anxiety or concerns.
- If your child is upset or anxious, stay calm when you discuss these situations.
- Do not punish your child for mistakes, fears, unwillingness to sleep in a dark room, leave the house and other manifestations of anxiety – punishment will definitely not help here.
- “Catch” him on what he does well: praise even small achievements and be specific: he washes the dishes perfectly, cut bread evenly, corrected the mark, finished the project, removed the socks.
- Plan. If your child’s anxiety makes it difficult to leave for school or kindergarten in the morning, set aside extra time to “transition” from one building and social role to another.
- Carefully inform the educator, teacher, trainer what is happening.
- Above all, be prepared to listen if your child wants to talk about their anxiety. Children with anxiety disorders often try to hide their fears because they think adults won’t understand.
When should you seek professional help?
Without a child, you can go to a psychologist (for example, at school or in kindergarten, but it is better to go to a clinical psychologist) right away. This is the first stage, which, perhaps, will help to understand whether we are talking about an anxiety disorder or a transient reaction to a situation.
But if things get worse, family support doesn’t work – a doctor is needed. Psychotherapists work with anxiety disorders. You can start by consulting a pediatrician.
The highest efficiency in working with such disorders in children and adults is in cognitive-behavioral therapy, sometimes drug support is required to relieve symptoms of the acute stage.