As a parent, I hate to see that my children are feeling anxious or worried. Often, I could tell just by looking at them that something was upsetting; whether it was a movie we were watching or a thunderstorm in the middle of the night. Sometimes, however, it is not so easy to distinguish what emotions your children are feeling. For example, I didn’t know my daughter was having panic attacks until she told me.
In order to help our kids, it is important to look at anxiety as a whole. What is it? What causes it? What can we do as parents to help our children cope?
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling typically caused by high levels of stress, worry, or nervousness. These feelings can negatively affect a person’s quality of life, ability to be productive, willingness to try new things, etc. Anxiety is often a reaction to fear—real or perceived.
Low levels of anxiety may have little effect on your child, and are characterized by a feeling of general discomfort or mild tension. High levels of anxiety, however, are serious and exhausting to anyone experiencing them. These high levels may make it difficult for your child to excel in their school work, social relationships, interactions with family members, and sports.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Inability to Focus
Loss of Motivation
Increased Heart Rate/ Blood Pressure
As in younger children, stress can show up in poor grades and contrary behaviors. Older teens also often respond to stress by developing eating disorders or problems with alcohol/drug abuse. Know the signs and be prepared to address them.
Different Types of Anxiety
Separation Anxiety- This type of anxiety is common with younger children, but can be experienced by people of all ages. It is exactly what the name suggests: anxiety which is caused by being upset to be separated from a loved one.
Phobia- A phobia is a non-rational fear of a situation or place. Exposure to a situation to which a person is afraid can cause panic or anxiety attacks.
Social Anxiety- A person experiencing social anxiety will have difficulty socializing with peers, co-workers, and in severe cases even family members.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder- Typical among those who have suffered through a life-altering trauma, such as military combat, sexual assault, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, etc. P.T.S.D. Sufferers exhibit distinct symptoms, namely night-terrors and violent reactions to surprise.
Situational- Short-term anxiety caused by environmental stresses, such as problems at work, school, or with friends.
Although there are many different parts to each individual case of anxiety, some common causes have been established.
If a child’s parents are prone to anxiety, it is likely that they will be anxious themselves. This is especially likely if there is a history of anxiety disorders in the family.
Repeated exposure to stressful situations is also a common cause for anxiety. This cause can also be referred to as “situational anxiety”.
Traumatic events in a person’s life can cause them to react to minor situations in an exaggerated fashion. If your child has suffered through a natural disaster or some form of abuse, this is likely the cause of their anxiety.
Sometimes, of course, there is no discernible cause as to why your child may be stressed. This can be especially troubling for you as a parent; understanding such things is easier when you can point your finger at a cause.
Ways You Can Help
Here are some tips to help your anxious child with their symptoms:
Breathing Exercises and Relaxation Techniques. This is something you can do together. Just pause, take in a deep breath through the nose and then exhale through the mouth. Repeat as necessary.
Try not to over-schedule your child’s day. Make sure there is ample down time in between school, athletic practice/games, family events, etc.
Give your child comfort, provide a stable environment, develop routines, and reassure your child as much as possible.
Make sure you child is getting the proper amount of rest, nutrition, and exercise. Of course every child is different but here are some general sleep guidelines as suggested byWeb MD:
Ages 1-3 12-14 hours of sleep
Ages 3-6 10-12 hours of sleep
Ages 7-12 10-11 hours of sleep
Ages 12-18 8-9 hours of sleep
When you are on the road and didn’t plan ahead consider pulling into the supermarket instead of the fast-food drive-in. You can pick up fresh fruit, cheese, and bread for a satisfying meal to go.
If you don’t see improvement with your child’s anxiety, it may time to visit the family physician. Seeking help sooner than later can make treatments more effective.