How to deal with anxiety disorders in children
Little Timmy, aged seven, is your average Grade 2 student. He loves reading storybooks, and he spends most of his free time drawing his favorite superhero. He dreams of becoming an international baseball star someday and is a member of his school’s Little Leaguers Baseball Club. He is also a born leader, and every teacher adores him very much.
However, Timmy is also a strange case. He has this tendency of clinging tightly to his mother’s legs before entering his classroom. He always demands having his mother near him, where he can see her while he attends his class. He is always hysterical when he cannot see his mother. He refuses to go camping with the other members of the baseball club, and before going to sleep, he requires having his mother with him.
When asked why he wants his mother with him all the time, Timmy says that he is worried that bad things might happen to her while they are apart. His mother is all what he has, he claims and saying goodbye to her always makes him feel worried and sick. He just can’t help it, he says.
What Timmy is experiencing is Separation Anxiety Disorder, a type of anxiety disorder wherein a person experiences great fear about being separated from home or from someone whom they are greatly attached to (for example, a parent or a close guardian).
It is normal for children aged two or three years old to feel nervous when separated from home. But in the case of Separation Anxiety Disorder, the excessive worrying keeps coming back every time the person is pulled from his comfort zone. Normally children with this disorders are demanding, intrusive, and in need of constant attention.
And it is unfortunate to say that Separation Anxiety Disorder is not the only anxiety disorder that can disrupt a person’s everyday life.
Your child and you
As a parent (or maybe a guardian), you are extremely aware of anything related to your child. You are super sensitive to your child’s wants and needs. You also gain this kind of sense that something may be happening to your child, be it in a physical or a mental sense.
So if you are suspecting that something is wrong with your child, assess him with a critical eye.
Check his mannerisms and his way of speaking.
- Does he stutter?
- Does he have difficulty making new friends?
- Does he have complaints of sudden pain?
To guide you with your assessment, here is a simple checklist of anxiety disorders and their symptoms, to see if your child may or may not be having an anxiety disorder.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD):
What it is: According to MedicineNet.com, GAD is a mood disorder that is characterized by multiple and/or nonspecific worries that interfere with a person’s life in some way.
- Persistent and excessive worry for at least six months
- Uncontrollable desire for perfection
- Extreme anxiety over various things like grades, family issues, academic and extracurricular activities
- Always in need of approval or reassurance from others
- Physical symptoms include fatigue, muscle tension, headaches, and restlessness
Separation anxiety disorder:
What it is: WebMD has identified separation anxiety disorder as a condition in which the child becomes fearful and nervous when away from home or separated from a loved one.
- Very “clingy” to parents and showing reluctance to being separated from them
- Excessive worrying that accidents will happen to their loved ones while they are apart
- Refusal to go to school or bed without parents present
- Symptoms of anxiety for at least four weeks, resulting in social or school problems
- Physical symptoms include stomachaches, nausea, and vomiting
Social anxiety disorder/ Social phobia:
What it is: Social anxiety disorder, as discussed by ADAA, is the extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others in social or performance situations.
- Showing self-consciousness and concern about being judged by others
- Extreme fear or embarrassment in front of a crowd
- Very sensitive to criticism and has difficulty defending self
- Avoiding social gatherings like parties, reunions, eating in restaurants
- Physical symptoms include muscle tension, profuse sweating, and blushing
What it is: Panic disorder is characterized by panic attacks that are sudden and recurrent.
- Panic or anxiety attacks that are unexpected (sudden and without apparent reason) and lasting 15 to 30 minutes
- Refusal to leave home due to the belief that something bad will happen to them
- Panicky behavior may lead to problems at school, home, and social relationships
- Feeling like they are “going crazy” or “losing control.”
- Physical symptoms include difficulty in breathing, palpitations, chest pains, trembling, and sweating
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
What it is: PTSD is an anxiety disorder that is triggered after experiencing a traumatic event.
- Avoiding places or people after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic experience
- Experiencing flashbacks or nightmares of the unpleasant event
- Increased arousal, such as difficulty in sleeping and concentrating, irritability, and exaggerated startle response
- Physical symptoms include muscle tension, jumpiness, and hypervigilance
What it is: Smart Center defined selective mutism as a complex childhood anxiety disorder characterized by a child’s inability to speak and communicate effectively in social settings.
- Consistent refusal to speak in situations where talking is needed or expected
- Using hand gestures or whispering to communicate, rather than talking
- Behavior may lead to problems in school, home, and social relationships
- Physical symptoms include looking down, withdrawing, or blushing when spoken to.
What it is: Specific phobia is a kind of anxiety disorder where the person shows irrational fear when exposed to a specific object or situation.
- Intense and irrational fear about a person, an object, an animal, or a given situation
- Avoiding situations or things that provoke anxiety
- Physical symptoms include crying, throwing tantrums, headaches, and stomachaches
What it is: OCD is characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions).
- Presence of intrusive thoughts that are not sensible
- Feeling the intense need to perform rituals to ease anxiety
- Behavior may lead to problems at school, home, and social relationships
- Physical symptoms include the uncontrollable urge to repeat specific actions, like frequent hand washing or putting things in the same arrangement.
Solutions to overcome Anxiety Disorders
Relaxation techniques, such as yoga and meditation, can be of great help for your child. Even a simple breathing exercise can do wonders for your little one. Also take note that it is not only your child who can benefit from these techniques. You, as the primary caregiver, can do them too! And in this setting, your child will have the assistance he needs from you, you two can bond while doing the exercise, and you two can feel the effects of these relaxation techniques together.
Diet should also be closely assessed. Put more vegetables on your kid’s plate and, as much as possible, avoid greasy fast foods.
Therapy and medication also work, but make sure that you will consult with your mental health care provider first.
The choices are endless for you and your child, so never lose hope. Do not let this disorder consume your child. Do whatever you can, and for sure, your efforts will be rewarded.
Hope you liked the post on dealing with anxiety Disorders in children.