Helping your child overcome anxiety
IT IS normal for children to feel worried or anxious from time to time, such as when they are starting school or nursery, or moving to a new area. However, for some children, anxiety affects their daily behaviour and thoughts, interfering with their school, home and social life. This is when you may need professional help to tackle it.
Examples of different types of anxiety disorders include:
· Being very afraid when away from parents (separation anxiety)
· Having extreme fear about a specific thing or situation, such as dogs, insects, or going to the doctor (phobias)
· Being very afraid of school and other places where there are people (social anxiety)
· Being very worried about the future and about bad things happening (general anxiety)
· Having repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear that come with symptoms like heart pounding, having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty (panic disorder).
Anxiety may present as fear or worry, but can also make children irritable and angry. Anxiety symptoms can also include trouble sleeping, as well as physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, or stomach aches. Some anxious children keep their worries to themselves and, thus, the symptoms can be missed.
The first step to treatment is to talk with a doctor or a mental health specialist about getting an evaluation. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) recommends that healthcare providers routinely screen children for behavioural and mental health concerns. Some of the signs and symptoms of anxiety or depression in children could be caused by other conditions, such as trauma.
Specific symptoms like having a hard time focusing could be a sign of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is important to get a careful evaluation to get the best diagnosis and treatment. Consultation with a health provider can help determine if medication should be part of the treatment.
A mental health professional can develop a therapy plan that works best for the child and family. Behaviour therapy includes child therapy, family therapy, or a combination of both. The school can also be included in the treatment plan. For very young children, involving parents in treatment is key.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy is one form of therapy that is used to treat anxiety or depression, particularly in older children. It helps the child change negative thoughts into more positive, effective ways of thinking, leading to more effective behaviour. Behaviour therapy for anxiety may involve helping children cope with and manage anxiety symptoms while gradually exposing them to their fears so as to help them learn that bad things do not occur.
Treatments can also include a variety of ways to help the child feel less stressed and be healthier like nutritious food, physical activity, sufficient sleep, predictable routines, and social support.
If your child is having problems with anxiety, there are many things that you can do to help. Above all, it is important to talk to your child about their anxiety or worries.
Many children at different ages may develop anxieties that will go away after a while, with your reassurance. However, it is still a good idea to seek professional help or reassurance if your child is constantly anxious and it is not getting better, or is getting worse, self-help is not working, or it is affecting their school or family life, or their friendships.
Anxiety medicines may be offered to your child if their anxiety is severe or does not get better with talking therapies. They are usually only prescribed by doctors who specialise in children and young people’s mental health.
OTHER WAYS TO EASE ANXIETY IN CHILDREN
· Teach your child to recognise signs of anxiety in themselves
· Encourage your child to manage their anxiety and ask for help when they need it. Children of all ages find routines reassuring, so try to stick to regular daily routines where possible
· If your child is anxious because of distressing events, such as a bereavement or separation, look for books or films that will help them to understand their feelings
· If you are planning for an upcoming change, such as a house move, is coming up, prepare your child by talking to them about what is going to happen and why
· Try not to become overprotective or anxious yourself
· Practice simple relaxation techniques with your child, such as taking three deep, slow breaths, breathing in on a count of 3 and out for 3.
· Distraction can be helpful for young children. For example, if they are anxious about going to nursery, play games on the way there, such as seeing who can spot the most red cars
SOURCE: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), Children’s Mental Health, Centre for Disease Control and Prevention