Anxiety disorders are on the rise among children and teens, with a large number struggling with excessive worries or fears that interfere with school, activities, or relationships. Anxiety has become the most common childhood mental illness. As a parent, you may notice symptoms cropping up in your child from a young age or increase suddenly during key transitions like starting middle school. Either way, the experts at New Jersey based Aspire Psychological tell us that childhood anxiety causes distress in the moment and heightens risks for conditions like depression down the road. The good news is that with increased awareness of symptoms plus accessing child anxiety therapy early on, young people can get back on track to wellbeing.
Decoding the Signs: What Does Anxiety Look Like in Kids?
In order to intervene early, it’s essential to know what signs and symptoms to look for. Physically, your child may complain of persistent stomachaches or headaches, fatigue, rapid heartbeat, nausea, and shakiness unrelated to illness. Emotionally, you may notice increased crying, difficulty concentrating, irrational worries, irritability, avoidance of school or social situations, panic during transitions or instances of separation from caregivers, and repeatedly seeking reassurance for worries. Children may also turn to crutches like faulty negative thinking, perfectionism, missing school, throwing tantrums, and substance abuse to self-medicate their anxiety. If your child shows several emotional and physical symptoms for over six months that interfere with functioning, seek professional assessment for an anxiety disorder.
Probing Possible Causes
The causes of childhood anxiety are complex and involve an interplay between genetic, environmental, and developmental factors. Anxiety often runs in families, although environmental stressors also play a substantial role. Things like unstable home environments, school pressures and bullying, losses of loved ones, global uncertainties like COVID-19, and more can elevate stress hormones that spark anxiety.
Developmentally, negative early childhood experiences like insecure caregiver attachments, lack of emotional support, and adverse childhood events can rewire the brain’s fear and stress circuits. While you can’t change genetics or past experiences, you can control your child’s environment today to minimize stress. Getting them child anxiety therapy can also help them developmentally learn emotional coping skills and process past traumas fueling current anxiety.
Pursuing Professional Treatment
If providing a supportive environment and trying stress-management strategies at home do not alleviate your child’s anxiety, it is essential to seek professional treatment. Meet with your pediatrician and get a referral to a child psychologist or therapist specializing in childhood anxiety. The most common therapeutic approaches used in child anxiety therapy are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and medication.
CBT focuses on linking thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and changing faulty thought patterns that fuel anxiety. Exposure therapy gradually exposes children to fears in controlled settings to overcome them. Medications like SSRIs may also be prescribed in more severe cases to correct chemical imbalances contributing to anxiety. Additional accommodations and assistance for anxiety may also be set up at school. With professional expertise guiding both therapy and lifestyle changes, most children with anxiety can make significant strides.
As a parent, despite your best efforts, you may continue to worry about your anxious child. However, focusing your energy on providing emotional support, predictability in routines, minimizing pressure, and getting them access to child anxiety therapy delivers hope for overcoming struggles with anxiety. Provide consistent comfort when worries spiral, listen without judgement when they confide anxiety, incorporate relaxing rituals into life, avoid over-scheduling to allow downtime, and educate yourself on childhood anxiety. Above all, reassure your child that with professional help and unconditional support from family, their worries can evolve into wellbeing.