Living With Worry – Anxiety in Children
“I don’t want to go to school. My stomach hurts,” – it’s something many parents have heard before.
For parents with a child struggling with anxiety, where this plea is usually accompanied by tears, tantrums or panic attacks, this simple phrase can leave you feeling concerned, confused and at a complete loss as to what to do.
Approximately two to nine per cent of children and teenagers are diagnosed with anxiety disorders in Australia and countless more suffer behind closed doors.
Anxiety can be a crippling condition for your child and, as a parent, watching it unfold can leave you feeling overwhelmed, helpless and most likely guilty. In most instances there is nothing you are doing to cause their anxiety; it is something that comes from within. But there are ways you can help them and it starts by understanding and identifying the signs of this illness.
In addition to excessive worrying, children with anxiety disorders often have trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating and can experience diarrhoea, stomach aches and headaches. Emotionally, anxiety can impact a child’s thought processes, and can result in a child striving for perfection, being overwhelmed by unrealistic threats and consumed with fearful thoughts, avoiding social situations (such as school) and feeling afraid, uneasy, restless and sick.
What parents need to know about children with anxiety.
- Its okay for your child to worry – It is our body’s natural reaction to worry when threatened. Anxiety, however, causes our brains to think a situation is threatening when it’s actually not.
- Anxiety is not ‘made up’ – Yes, anxiety impacts the thought process and many people assume it’s all in the sufferer’s head, but this is not true. It is often part of a person’s internal temperament.
- Anxiety may be the result of another condition – Anxiety can be more common in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Attention Deﬁcit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Deﬁant Disorder and depression. See our Behavioural Busters article at pakmag.com.au for more information on these conditions.
Anxiety manifests in various ways and in varying severities:
- Separation anxiety – an intense fear at being away from family
- Social anxiety – an intense fear of being in social situations, such as school
- Phobia – an intense fear of a certain object, situation or event
- Social phobia – an intense fear of how others see you characterised by extreme shyness
- Generalised anxiety disorder – unrealistic worries about a broad range of possibilities including what might happen and what has happened in the past
- Post-traumatic stress disorder – a type of anxiety that develops due to a traumatic event and often results in irritability, violence, changes in sleep patterns and problems concentrating
- Obsessive compulsive disorder – the persistence of unwanted thoughts that results in children feeling compelled to repeat a particular action
Getting Control of Anxiety
When a child (or anyone, for that matter) is experiencing anxiety or a phobia to an extent that it causes genuine distress and interferes with normal functioning, then it’s time to get help.
There are psychological support services available across FNQ that can help with diagnosis, treatment and management.
There are plenty of coping mechanisms that can help children determine realistic thoughts and fears from unrealistic ones. There are also ways to help children practice mindfulness, to prevent panic attacks and to gain more control in social situations.
What approach you take will depend on your child and the assessment done by a professional.
And while I can’t tell you exactly how to help your child with anxiety, I can tell you that recognising the signs and accepting help is the first step in the right direction.
Resources to help:
- The Worried Child by Paul Foxman
- Anxiety-Free Children by Bonnie Zucker
- What to Do When You Worry Too Much by Dawn Huebner