Anxiety in Children
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health challenges experienced by people of all ages. Recent data indicates that approximately 30 percent of adults and adolescents have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. That means that out of the 10 people sitting around your table at Thanksgiving or Christmas, about three of them have experienced dysfunctional anxiety. Just like many mental health challenges, symptoms of a mental health disorder often show up differently in children; depression often manifests as irritability and anger outbursts in children, while anxiety may show up as defiance and avoidance. Other times, anxiety may show up as zoning out, distractibility, and fidgety or restless behavior in children. Knowing this, it can be seen how parents may miss the signs of such challenges, and fail to seek the help that could benefit their children. It is also quite common for parents to become frustrated with their children when they refuse to engage in typical daily tasks; these might include getting on the school bus, sleeping by themselves, staying in a room in the home by themselves without another family member, ordering food for themselves when needed, or any other such activity. When these behaviors are due to intense anxiety experienced by the situation, providing consequences for such behaviors does not lead to improvements. While everyone experiences anxiety at some point, untreated, chronic, and impairing anxiety can create additional problems. Along with avoidance or refusal as noted above, children may spiral into simultaneous depression, which is somewhat more challenging to treat. Therefore, finding appropriate resources for anxiety is essential.
In thinking about anxiety in children, there are many available resources. The primary mode of intervention is psychotherapy, and the primary treatment modality of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is usually the most beneficial. This therapeutic model helps change thoughts by replacing maladaptive thinking with more productive thinking; it also assists in changing the things a child does so as to reduce their anxiety or panic symptoms. Importantly, therapy with children should always include parents to some degree; when parents are learning the same new vocabulary and tools that their children are learning, they can support their children in between therapy sessions. Without such, children are left to independently try the skills they learned, which does not usually result in the same rate or level of improvement. At times, a child’s anxiety may be so extreme that therapy only scratches the surface. While medication should not be the initial treatment option, it may be an important thing to consider alongside therapy. Working with a knowledgeable pediatrician or pediatric psychiatrist is important in these cases.
While anxiety is very common, and can significantly impact daily living, there are also may success stories for those having been through treatment for anxiety. Finding an appropriate therapist with whom to work, and possibly seeking advice from a medical specialist, are ways to support children. Likewise, there are many wonderful books that both children and their parents can find benefit. A sampling of those are listed here for reference.
- What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety, by Dawn Huebner.
- What to Do When Mistakes Make You Quake: A Kid’s Guide to Accepting Imperfection, by Claire A.B. Freeland and Jacqueline B. Tone.
- When Fuzzy Was Afraid of Losing His Mother, by Inger Maier.
- When Lizzy Was Afraid of Trying New Things, by Inger Maier.
- What To Do When You’re Scared & Worried: A Guide for Kids, by James J. Crist.
- Sometimes I Worry Too Much, But Now I Know How to Stop, by Dawn A. Huebner.
- After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again, by Dan Santat.
- The Bear Who Lost His Sleep: A Story About Worrying Too Much, by Jessica Lamb-Shapiro.
- Jenny is Scared! When Sad Things Happen in the World, by Carol Shuman.
- Worried No More, by Aureen Pinto Wagner.
- Homemade Books to Help Kids Cope: An Easy-to-Learn Technique for Parents and Professionals, by Robert G. Ziegler.
- CBT Workbook for Kids: 40+ Fun Exercises and Activities to Help Children Overcome Anxiety & Face Their Fears at Home, at School, and Out in the World, by Heather Davidson.
- The Anxiety Workbook for Teens, by Lisa Schab.
- Your Anxious Child: How Parents and Teachers Can Relieve Anxiety in Children, by John S. Dacey and Lisa B. Fiore.
- Seven Steps to Help Your Child Worry Less, by Sam Goldstein, Kristy Hagar, and Robert Brooks.
- Helping Your Anxious Child: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents, by Sue Spence, Vanessa Cobham, Ann Wignall, and Ronald M. Rapee.
- Raising Worry-Free Girls: Helping Your Daughter Feel Braver, Stronger, and Smarter in an Anxious World, by Sissy Goff.
- If Your Adolescent Has an Anxiety Disorder: An Essential Resource for Parents, by Edna B. Foa, and Linda Wasmer Andrews.
- Keys to Parenting Your Anxious Child, by Katherina Mannasis.
- The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them, by Elaine Aron.
- Understanding the Highly Sensitive Child: Seeing an Overwhelming World through Their Eyes, by James Williams.
- Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook for Kids: Help for Children to Cope with Stress, Anxiety and Transitions, by Lawrence Shapiro and Robin Sprague.