Anxiety in children
Anxiety disorders can affect children just as they do adults, but the symptoms may be different and may not be as obvious. It’s worth noting that children may not be able to articulate or express their feelings of anxiety, and that parents and caregivers should be aware of any changes in a child’s behaviour or mood. Let’s take a look at anxiety in children: common symptoms and treatment.
The symptoms of anxiety in children can vary depending on the type of anxiety disorder and the child’s age, but some common symptoms include:
- Excessive worrying or fearfulness
- Constant reluctance to attend school or social events
- Constant complaints of stomach-aches, headaches, or other physical symptoms
- Refusal to sleep alone or sleep away from home
- Constant need for reassurance
- Difficulty concentrating or completing tasks
- Constant irritability or anger
- Constant fears of harm or separation from parents or caregivers
- Constant complaints of feeling sick
- Refusal to participate in activities that were once enjoyed
- Complaints of feeling nervous or tense
- Clinginess or separation anxiety
- Obsessive or compulsive behaviours
- Persistent nightmares or night terrors
- Crying or tantrums over small things
Some children may also present with somatic complaints such as abdominal pain, headaches, or fatigue.
There are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood of a child developing an anxiety disorder, these include:
- Genetics: Anxiety disorders tend to run in families, so if a parent or other close relative has an anxiety disorder, a child may be more likely to develop one as well.
- Trauma or abuse: Children who have experienced trauma or abuse may have a greater risk of developing an anxiety disorder.
- Life events: Children who have experienced significant life events such as the death of a loved one, a divorce, or a move to a new area may be at a greater risk of developing an anxiety disorder.
- Medical conditions: Children who have certain medical conditions such as asthma or diabetes may be at an increased risk of developing an anxiety disorder.
- Temperament: Children who are naturally anxious or shy may be at an increased risk of developing an anxiety disorder.
- Brain chemistry: Imbalances in certain neurotransmitters, the chemicals that carry signals in the brain, may play a role in anxiety disorders.
- Social environment: Children who grow up in an environment where they are exposed to violence, lack of stability, neglect, or have parents who struggle with mental health issues may be at high risk of developing an anxiety disorder.
Not all children who have risk factors for anxiety will develop an anxiety disorder. Also, other factors may also play a role. Early identification and intervention can help reduce the risk of the child developing long-term anxiety disorder
Treatment of anxiety in children
The treatment of anxiety in children typically involves a combination of therapy, medication, and parental involvement. The specific treatment plan will depend on the type and severity of the anxiety disorder, as well as the individual child’s personal preferences and needs.
- Therapy: Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective forms of therapy for anxiety disorders in children. It focuses on teaching children how to identify and change the thoughts and behaviours that contribute to their anxiety. Other forms of therapy such as play therapy, family therapy, and parent-child interaction therapy can also be helpful in treating anxiety disorders in children.
- Medication: Antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication can be used to reduce symptoms of anxiety in children. However, these medications should be used with caution in children and only under the guidance of a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other medical professional with experience in treating children.
- Parental involvement: Parental involvement is a crucial aspect of treating anxiety in children, as parents can provide support and guidance to their child throughout the treatment process.
- Relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and yoga can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and promote overall well-being in children.
- Lifestyle changes: Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep can also help reduce symptoms of anxiety in children.
- Support groups: Joining a support group can be helpful for children with anxiety disorders, as it allows them to connect with other children who are going through similar experiences.
In some cases, a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes may be needed to manage symptoms of anxiety effectively in children.
Anxiety management tips for parents
There are several ways parents can help their children learn to manage anxiety:
- Encourage open communication: Encourage children to talk about their feelings and concerns and listen actively and non-judgmentally.
- Provide reassurance: Provide reassurance that they are safe and loved, and that you will support them as they learn to manage their anxiety.
- Model healthy coping mechanisms: Show children how to cope with stress and anxiety through your own healthy behaviours.
- Educate yourself and your child: Learn about anxiety and its causes and explain it to your child in age-appropriate terms.
- Help children identify triggers: Help children to identify what triggers their anxiety and to develop strategies for coping with them.
- Encourage physical activity: Encourage children to engage in regular physical activity, as exercise can help to reduce anxiety.
- Encourage relaxation: Encourage children to engage in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, and yoga.
- Encourage a healthy lifestyle: Encourage children to eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, and maintain regular routines.
- Be consistent and supportive: Be consistent in your approach to your child’s anxiety and provide emotional support and encouragement.
- Seek professional help: Seek professional help if your child’s anxiety is severe or interfering with their daily life. A mental health professional can provide a specific treatment plan that is tailored to your child’s needs and can provide support and guidance to the family.
If a child is showing signs of anxiety, it is important to seek help from a healthcare professional such as a paediatrician or a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Treatment for children with anxiety disorders typically involves a combination of therapy, medication, and parental involvement, the specific treatment plan will depend on the type and severity of the anxiety disorder, as well as the individual’s personal preferences and needs.
Helping a child with anxiety can be challenging and treatment for anxiety disorders in children may take time and patience. Parents and caregivers should take care of themselves as well and seek support when needed. It’s important to work closely with a healthcare professional to find the right treatment plan.