Managing Anxiety in Children

Jan 14th 2021

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15+ min read

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Anxiety is a basic emotion that all human beings experience.

How does it appear in children?

Is your child too upset when separated from you, when going to school, or about events that have not yet happened? Do they claim to feel isolated and alone? Are they afraid that something will go wrong?

If the answer to these questions is yes, your child may have excessive anxiety. Anxiety disorders are among the most prevalent in childhood and adolescence. But it's nothing to be too worried about. Let's dive into it.

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What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a basic emotion that all human beings experience. It is normal and healthy. It is our body's reaction to stress, which usually appears as a normal response to a danger or threat. The release of adrenaline (hormone) triggers a "fight" or "flight" response to react to the stressful situation. It is an emotion aimed at adapting and preserving the species; it helps us face stressful situations and handle them better.

Anxiety can be an unpleasant feeling; it is also useful when faced with new or challenging situations.

How Much Anxiety Is "Normal"?

As children grow, there are times when they are afraid or perceive danger: darkness, monsters, or fear of falling off the bicycle are examples of early experiences of anxiety. For other children, these feelings appear in social and assessment situations, such as taking a test, meeting other children, or being the subject of a joke. This is a normal part of their development as they grow and develop their "survival skills" to meet the world's challenges. "Normal" anxiety is generally occasional and of short duration.

Some people are naturally more anxious than others and are more likely to emphasize the "dangerous part of situations" or to feel worried.

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Anxiety in Children

It is not uncommon for children, even the smallest ones, to feel anxious at times. But how do you know if anxiety is a problem for your child? It can be confusing.

You may see some anxious behaviors even when children do not have an anxiety problem. Therefore, they may not attract attention unless they occur very frequently or interfere with daily life. For example, not wanting to eat lunch at school or being angry for no reason are behaviors caused by all sorts of things or nothing at all.

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What Causes it?

As children grow older, they may become fearful or perceive more danger. This can be anything from darkness to fear of imaginary characters like monsters.

Now, anxiety in children is common and can manifest itself through very specific types:

Fear of separation. The infant may not understand or accept the separation, expressing doubt and fear. The causes could range from going to a new school, or going to friend's house for a sleepover, to a parent having to travel for work.

Social anxiety. As is known, children experience a certain shyness. Some will be shyer when interacting with other children, while others will become more nervous in the company of new adults. There are some children who will even feel anxious about any new relationship.

Avoiding school.  It is one of the times when children get the most nervous. This is caused either by the fear of something new or the feeling of missing or being separated from their parents.

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How can you tell if your child has Anxiety?

Difficulty breathing. As the heart races, the child finds it increasingly difficult to keep breathing slow. Breathing also accelerates and becomes 'clumsier.' In extreme cases, you may notice them hyperventilate and become dizzy or faint.

Excessive sweating. The nervousness that triggers an anxiety attack makes the body sweat more. It's like a machine in full swing!

Dizziness. When it is difficult to maintain a calm breathing rhythm, the brain suffers from an oxygen deficiency, which can cause dizziness and a severe headache.

Muscle tension. Muscles stiffen, tense. The body reacts to anxiety as if it were facing an enemy.

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How can Parents make it easier for their Kids?

Many well-meaning parents try to protect their anxious children from their fears, but overprotecting them can make it worse. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, combined with family involvement, is the intervention that has proven most effective for anxiety. However, most of the times, some simpler measures can be taken. Here are some tips to help your children manage their anxiety without reinforcing it.

Don't try to eliminate anxiety; help your child control it.

The best way to help children overcome their anxiety is to help them learn to tolerate it as best they can. The anxiety will diminish over time.

Don't avoid certain things simply because they make your child anxious.

Helping children avoid the things that scare them will make them feel better in the short term but may reinforce their anxiety in the long term.

Be positive but realistic.

Do not promise your child that what they fear will not happen. For example, instead of telling them they will not fail an exam, try to build the confidence in them to overcome any result.

Respect their feelings, but don't reinforce them.

Validating feelings is not the same as being satisfied with them. So if your child is terrified of going to the doctor, listen and be empathetic, but encourage them to face their fears.

Appreciate their efforts.

Let them know that you appreciate the great effort they are putting in to fight their inner battle, and remind them that the more they tolerate the anxiety, the more it will decrease.

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Worry does not empty tomorrow of its troubles - it empties today of its strength. Corrie Ten Boom