How to help children under 10 cope with anxiety. Strategies and ideas for parents to help their young child stop anxious thoughts, deal with distressing feelings and conquer their fears.
Many children under the age of 10 suffer from anxiety disorders. These disorders can stem from a variety of factors ranging from genetics to environment. Children with anxiety disorders are often misunderstood. Many parents and teachers mistake their anxiety for misbehavior. There are a lot of treatment options, both medical and natural. In addition, there are many ways parents and caregivers can alleviate some of their children’s anxiety. If left untreated, anxiety can become a chronic condition and can cause children and other family members a lot of distress. The good news is that the more you know about anxiety, the greater chance you have of helping your child cope with this disorder. Doctors and therapists are coming up with different solutions to treat children with anxiety disorder.
What Causes Anxiety In Children
No one is really sure what exactly causes young children to have anxiety disorders, but there are several factors that definitely can play a role. A number of things can cause children to suffer from anxiety. The three main categories of causes include biological factors, family factors, and environmental factors.
Biological factors are the most scientific explanation for anxiety disorder. Neurotransmitters in a child’s brain control the child’s feelings by sending messages back and forth. Serotonin and dopamine are two specific neurotransmitters that have been linked to anxiety disorder. If these neurotransmitters are disrupted, it can make a child feel anxious and/or depressed.
Family factors can also cause a child to suffer from anxiety disorder. Some believe it is an inherited disorder. If a parent shows symptoms of anxiety, their children also exhibit those same symptoms. Anxiety can also be learned. If a parent is anxious and stressed out often, the child can begin to inadvertently mimic the same behavior. However, just because a family member has an anxiety disorder does not mean that a child will definitely inherit it.
Environmental factors seem to be the most common cause of anxiety disorder in children. When children live through a traumatic experience such as death of a close relative, parents divorcing, physical or emotional abuse, they are likely to suffer from anxiety disorder at some time in the future. Major life changes such as moving to a new town or change in a family’s financial situation can also trigger anxious feelings in children. Sometimes the birth of a sibling can cause a child to feel jealous and threatened and lead to the development of an anxiety disorder. Life changes can affect a child’s sense of security.
When a child is too busy with extracurricular activities, an anxiety disorder can develop. If your child is constantly running from one activity to another, it can cause them to get really stressed. Many kids need downtime. Some kids put a lot of pressure on themselves to do well in school. They want to make all A’s and they want to be popular. These children are afraid of making mistakes or not being accepted by their peers.
School is full of factors that can cause anxiety. When a child doesn’t get along with his or her teacher, it can cause feelings of anxiety towards school. When a child gets bullied, teased, or left out of a social clique, anxiety disorders can develop. Sometimes books or movies can cause kids distress. If they encounter a scary or violent scene from a movie or read about one in a book, it can stay on kids’ minds for a very long time.
How To Tell If Your Child Is Suffering From Anxiety
It is natural for children to be anxious to some degree. Many parents wonder how much anxiety is normal. In infants, becoming startled easily is developmentally appropriate. It is also normal for infants to fear strangers. In toddlers, it is normal for them to be afraid of the dark, imaginary creatures, and to have separate anxiety from their parents. In school-age children, it is normal for them to fear getting hurt, death, and storms. The difference between developmentally appropriate anxiety and an anxiety disorder is that developmentally appropriate anxiety goes away over time and doesn’t prevent the child from functioning during daily activities.
If you are unsure if your child’s anxiety is developmentally appropriate or an anxiety disorder, a psychologist or behavioral therapists can help.
Children experience anxiety in different degrees. Some children worry about every little thing. Others don’t ever feel anxious at all. Unfortunately, there are many children who are consumed with anxiety that affect their everyday lives. Many children who suffer from anxiety disorder are not aware that they have a problem. Those who do realize that they have a problem may not want to talk about it for fear that others might not understand. They may also fear being judged by their friends. This leads to kids feeling very lonely. It is important for teachers, parents, and caregivers to pay attention and seek help if a child exhibits any of the following characteristics:
- Exhibits some type of worry every single day
- Seems worried often about events beyond their control
- Tries to avoid particular situations or events
- Preoccupied with pleasing everyone
- Changes in behavior including clinginess or moodiness
- Development of nervous habits such as nail biting or tics
- Suddenly starts getting into trouble at school
- Obsessed with schoolwork having to be perfect
- Fears going to school
- Worries excessively about his or her own safety or the safety of loved ones
- Complains often about headaches, stomachaches, fatigue, or muscles aching
- Sleep problems including insomnia or daytime sleepiness
- Wants to be near parents at all times
- Can’t concentrate on simple tasks
- Gets scared easily
- Rarely seems calm or relaxed
- Fidgets often, can’t sit still
- Frequently in a bad mood
These problems can prevent your child from completing regular daily activities. If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms and they won’t seem to go away, it’s important that you seek help from a professional.
Types of Anxiety Disorders in Children
There are different types of anxiety disorder. Below are the most common types of anxiety disorders in which children can suffer:
- General Anxiety Disorder – General anxiety disorder (GAD) is the diagnosis when a child experiences anxiety, but the cause cannot be determined. General anxiety disorder can last a few months or several years.
- Phobias – Children sometimes suffer from a specific phobia. These children greatly fear a particular object, animal or certain situation. When a child encounters his or her phobia, they often exhibit symptoms such as shaking, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, and an upset stomach.
- Panic Attacks – Panic attacks are also called as agoraphobia. Children suffering from panic attacks have repeated episodes of shaking, dizziness, chest pains, and intense feelings of fear. They often avoid certain situations for fear of having a panic attack.
- Social Anxiety – Children with social anxiety only have symptoms when in social settings. They fear unwanted attention from anyone, including friends.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – Children with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are consumed by a specific obsession. They perform repetitive rituals as a coping mechanism.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – When a child experiences a traumatic event, he or she may suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The child cannot stop thinking about the stressful event. Certain people or situations that remind the child of the traumatic event will make the child feel very anxious.
Impact Of Anxiety For Child And Family
Having a child with anxiety disorder affects the entire family. It is stressful for everyone. It can be very emotional watching your child suffer from anxiety. It is important to set a calm example. It will not help your child to see you get upset or cry due to his or her anxiety.
Parents need to learn as much as they can about anxiety disorders so they can help their child. The more books you read and more research your learn about, the better you can help your child cope with anxiety disorder. Talking to other parents of children with anxiety disorders can be therapeutic. It will be a relief to hear other parents talk about similar situations you are experiencing.
In additional, parents need to talk about the disorder with the other children in the household so they can better understand their sibling’s behavior. If the other children in the family don’t understand their sibling’s disorder, they may feel resentment towards the child. Many siblings complain that parents pay more attention to the child with the anxiety disorder. They also complain about the things they don’t get to do, because their sibling can’t do them. A parent must make it clear to the other children in the family that teasing and treating the child with the disorder badly will not be tolerated. It’s also important for parents to listen to the feelings of the other children in the family, so that they will feel important, too. Parents may want to plan special time with the other children in the family, so that they will not feel that you are giving all of your attention to your child with anxiety. Siblings and parents of children with anxiety disorders may need to attend counseling themselves in order to deal with the problem.
Parents also need to take a child’s anxiety disorder into consideration when planning family outings and attending social events. Certain vacation destinations such as theme parks can be way too over stimulating for children with anxiety. Calming places such as the beach or the mountains may be more appropriate and relaxing. Traveling in a vehicle for long periods of time or air travel can be stressful to some children. It is important to let children know what to expect and to find out their feelings about it before planning a long trip.
Possible Treatments For Child Anxiety
If you suspect that your child has an anxiety disorder, it is important that you talk first you’re your family doctor. Your family doctor can recommend a child psychologist or a behavioral therapist that will be able to diagnosis your child and explain treatment options. They will help you create a plan to help your child cope with this problem. There are several treatment options for anxiety disorder. The most common treatments are listed below:
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that is administered by a trained mental health professional. He or she will talk to your child about his or her anxiety and teach them strategies for reducing the anxiety. The therapist will teach your child coping skills and strategies to help them relax in anxious situations.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) teaches a child to live in the present and not worry about things that happened in the past or might happen in the future.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) teaches children to maintain control of him or herself. It teaches the child what to do when experiencing negative feelings or anxiety.
There are different prescription medications that can help with symptoms of anxiety disorder. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety. They are extremely effective for most patients. Benzodiazepines are also commonly prescribed to treat anxiety. They are very effective on a short-term basis, but there have been no long-term studies conducted on these drugs. Unfortunately, many patients develop a tolerance to them, and the dose has to keep increasing every few months. Antidepressants such as Prozac are used with patients who need medication on a long-term basis. Most doctors won’t prescribe medicine unless the child is also receiving some type of therapy. It’s important to understand that medications don’t cure anxiety. They just relieve the symptoms as long as the patient is taking the medicine. Coping strategies to deal with anxiety and stress are more valuable than medications.
There are also many helpful online home treatments that can help young children cope with their anxiety disorders. An excellent and highly effective in-home treatment is Turnaround: Turning Fear Into Freedom, a multi award-winning and evidence-based audio program that is story-based and teaches your child valuable information needed to conquer their fears as well as a step-by-step plan to overcome his/her own anxiety. It offers the listening child to join six other anxious children on an imaginary 10-day camping adventure filled with fun characters, mentors, obstacles, laughter, and music learn how to identify and stop anxious thoughts, calm distressing feelings, and courageously face their fears by using proven strategies (CBT) to overcome anxiety. Learn more about Turnaround here…
What Parents/Caregivers Can Do To Help
There are a lot of things parents and caregivers can do to help an anxious child. They are as follows:
- Be aware of your child’s different moods and feelings.
- When your child becomes anxious, talk to him or her in a calming voice.
- Realize that it is very difficult for the child to control his or her anxiety. Praise the child when he or she handles anxiety appropriately.
- Don’t punish the child for anxious behavior.
- Try to maintain a consistent routine. Let the child know if something out of the ordinary will occur in his or her day.
- Know what upsets your child.
- Limit your child’s exposure to violent or scary books, video games, and movies.
- Talk to your child’s teachers to help them understand your child’s condition and explain ways they can help your child during the day.
- Expect the child to be anxious in certain situations.
- Help your child during transition situations.
- Listen to your child. It can be comforting to a child to know that they can talk to you about their feelings without judgment.
- Offer distractions. When you feel that your child is becoming anxious, try to get them involved in an activity they enjoy such as playing a favorite video game.
- Encourage your child to be active. Exercise releases mood-boosting endorphins. Have them run a lap around the house.
- Maintain routines. Stick to a regular bedtime and mealtimes.
- Encourage healthy habits. Make sure your child is getting his or her daily allowance of vitamins and nutrients. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. Unhealthy eating and sleep deprivation can cause stress.
- Make sure your child has quiet downtime to decompress.
- Communicate with your child’s doctor and/or therapist. If you know that an upcoming event will cause anxiety for your child, ask a professional how to handle it. They can suggest ways to help your child through it.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Do help your child break down large tasks into smaller tasks.
- Do role play social situations with your child and model appropriate behavior.
- Do praise your child for handling stressful situations appropriately.
- Do give your child chores so he or she can feel like an important contribution to the family.
- Do let your child know that feeling anxious sometimes is ok.
- Do encourage your child to talk about his or her feelings.
- Do take time for yourself. Having a child with anxiety disorder can be stressful, and parents need time away for their own well being.
- Do keep your own personal fears to yourself. You don’t want to give your child something new to worry about.
- Do have a sense of humor around your child. Show your child how to laugh at life.
- Do be consistent with your spouse about how to handle your child’s anxiety. Children with anxiety disorders need consistency. It makes them feel safe.
- Don’t keep your child from normal activities.
- Don’t do everything for your child. He or she must learn to be independent.
- Don’t overly reassure your child that everything will be ok.
- Don’t confuse other types of inappropriate behavior with your child’s anxiety. Children need to know that there are consequences for inappropriate behavior that they can control.
Child Anxiety FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions)
- At what age does a child develop anxiety?
- How to help a child with anxiety about school with some social phobia and separation anxiety?
- Is there anything I can do for a child with separation anxiety other than medication?
- Can hypnosis benefit a child with anxiety/phobia?
- What natural remedies can help manage anxiety in children?
- Are there any good books or courses on alleviating child anxiety symptoms?
Q1. At what age does a child develop anxiety?
Q2. How can you help a child with anxiety about school with some social phobia and separation anxiety?
Parents can role play situations at home. If a child fears parents dropping them off at school, the parent and child can practice this event. If a child fears interacting with peers, role play conversations with friends
Q3. Is there anything I can do for a child with separation anxiety other than medication?
Yes. One thing parents can do is practice separation in small doses. Leave your child with a babysitter or relative for only a small period of time. Do this repeatedly increasing the time each time until your child is no longer uncomfortable with separation. Other thing to try is to develop a routine for saying goodbye, the more unique the better. Try making up a secret handshake or a special kind of kiss. Your child may begin to look forward to performing the goodbye ritual.
Q4. Can hypnosis benefit a child with anxiety/phobia?
Sometimes hypnosis can help a child with anxiety and phobias. Many hypnotherapists claim that they can help children with these issues. It is supposed to help children release their negative emotions while at the same time works on their unconscious mind to provide a new ‘template’ for future behavior.
Q5. What natural remedies can help manage anxiety in children?
Passionflower is a herb that has been studied to treat anxiety disorders in children. Its effects are comparable to benzodiazepine drugs. It is also used to treat insomnia. Gamma-aminobutyric acid is another natural substance that some believe relieves anxiety. There are also different oils that are supposed to have a calming effect on children and adults alike: cypress, geranium, lavender, ylang-ylang, bergamot, neroli, melissa, rose, and sandalwood. Children who have anxiety disorder who also have sleep problems can try chamomile tea to help them relax before bedtime.
Q6. Are there any good books or courses on alleviating child anxiety symptoms?
Many books have been written about helping children cope with anxiety but here is a list of recommended titles that have good reviews from parents:
- Growing Up Brave: Expert Strategies for Helping Your Child Overcome Fear, Stress, and Anxiety by Donna B. Pincu
- You and Your Anxious Child: Free Your Child from Fears and Worries and Create a Joyful Family Life (Lynn Sonberg Book) by Anne Marie Albano
- What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (What to Do Guides for Kids) by Dawn Huebner and Bonnie Matthews
For parents who would like a more interactive approach to help their young child overcome anxiety can try the award-winning in-home course Turnaround: Turning Fear Into Freedom.
Your anxious child will listen to an adventure story designed to capture their attention while learning about anxiety and going step-by-step through the process to overcome it. The program is most effective for children ages 6-12 years old.