Anxiety is one of the most commonly treated disorders today. It affects one in eight children. Almost all children and adolescents have certain fears, worries or uneasiness at different stages of development. Many times, they outgrow their fears, but sometimes, those fears persist and become more magnified. Then they begin to interfere with daily functioning.
What is anxiety anyway?
It is a normal reaction to stress. Not necessarily about what’s currently happening, but about what may happen in the future or about something that happened previously.
- Biology and environment can contribute to anxiety.
- Worry, nervousness and fear can be crippling.
- Anxiety affects the entire person … our thoughts, our feelings, our behavior and it even has physical symptoms.
- On a continuum, it can be as minimal as worrying about going to sleep because a burglar might break in, to the more severe such as having panic attacks about going away to college.
The first glimmer we usually get of an anxious child is generally around 12 – 18 months old when they realize they are separated from us. Separation anxiety is normal and can begin as early as 6 months old and last for a few years.
Left untreated, anxiety can disrupt both your children’s lives and yours. So, what can you do to help circumvent this unnecessary worry?
- Look inward. Are you a worrier? If so, could your child be feeding off your anxiety? Don’t let your child be a victim of your fear. No parent I have ever known wants to purposefully pass on their fears and worries to their child. Get help for yourself if necessary and know when your fear is under control, you can better help your child overcome her fears.
- Validate. Parents must understand the importance of validating their child’s feelings, rather than minimizing them. Say, “I can see how upset you are. Please, tell me about it.” Then empathetically listen.
- Empower. Parents often try to fix their child’s problems for them. Try not to make this mistake. Encourage your child to come up with her own solution and support her as she does. Doing so will help her find resolve.
- Beware of manipulation. When upset, children often play on our emotions, asking us to bend the rules. For example, if your child is worried about something at school, she may ask to stay at home. Doing this keeps her from dealing with the real issue. Buying into her fears and letting her manipulate you is doing her a huge disservice. Instead, stand firm while empathizing with the situation by saying, “I can see that you are nervous about going to school. But, it’s a school day, and we’ll be leaving at 7:30.”
- Don’t expect too much too soon. If your child is scared to fall asleep alone, for example, offer to stay in her room for 30 minutes for a few days. Slowly decrease the time until she no longer needs you. By gradually confronting her fears, your child will have more success conquering them.
- Acknowledge her accomplishments. Continuing with the example about falling asleep alone, you might say, “You slept in your room all night! I know how hard that has been for you.” Give her credit for her victory.
As a concerned parent, it can be heart wrenching to see our kids struggle with fear. Some 25 years later, I still remember the exact time and place when my oldest told me she wished God had never made her because she was so fearful of being alone. If your child continually stresses out, reassure her that she will get things worked out. Your job is to support and encourage her.
If you seek proper intervention, know that childhood anxiety can be treated. Many times, all that is necessary is equipping the child with different coping tools and teaching parents the most effective ways to help their children. Medication is necessary in some, but not all cases. If your child struggles, please don’t think she will outgrow it and put off getting help. The earlier the intervention the better.
There’s Always Hope,
Need more help? Parents often jokingly ask Amy, “Will you go home with me?” While she can’t do that, Amy is available to consult with parents through her consultation services. Click Here to learn more!