Every parent has dealt with a child who is anxious about something, be it the first day of school, a piano recital, or meeting the new kid next door. Anxiety is certainly a part of every person’s life from time to time, but anxiety that is too strong or that happens a lot can become overwhelming and prevent a child from being able to function.
More Common Than You Think
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18.1% of adults have suffered from anxiety in the past year, and 22.8% of those adults (4.1% overall) have suffered from severe anxiety, and the average age for the onset of anxiety was 11 years old. For children, the numbers are higher, with 31.9% having anxiety disorders and 8.3% of them with severe anxiety. Anxiety is the most common form of childhood mental illness.
Among the most common forms of anxiety (with links to information on each from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America) are:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Two Questions to Ask Yourself
Researchers studying kindergartners found that two questions parents can ask themselves about their young child that can indicate that a child may develop an anxiety disorder in the future. Those questions are:
- Is your child more shy or anxious than other children their age?
- Is your child more worried than other children their age?
The researchers found that parents are often tuned in to their child’s behavior, but are not able to specifically identify what the issue is. Also note that these questions target persistent behavior over time and not passing anxieties that are a part of growing up.
Knowing the Signs and Symptoms
As stated earlier, every child and adult experiences anxiety from time to time. Most, even those who live through traumatic events, don’t develop anxiety disorders. For those that do, the signs include:
- Excessive worry most days of the week for weeks on end
- Trouble sleeping at night or sleepiness during the day
- Restlessness or fatigue during waking hours
- Trouble concentrating
- Complaining of stomach aches
- Withdrawal from social activities
What You Can Do for Your Anxious Child
It is difficult to watch your child struggle and suffer, but attempting to anticipate your child’s fears and to try to protect them from those fears can actually exacerbate a child’s anxiety. The advice to families of children suffering from anxiety is to help them learn to deal with anxiety, not to avoid it.
The Child Mind Institute has a list of ten things to do and not do when dealing with an anxious child. PsychCentral has a list of nine things for families of anxious children to try. The two lists parallel each other, and key points include:
- Don’t avoid things just because they make your child anxious.
- Stop reassuring your child.
- Respect feelings, but don’t empower them.
- Don’t ask leading questions.
- Teach your child to be a thought detective.
- Allow your child to worry.
- Try to model healthy ways of handling anxiety.
Be sure to check out both lists for more information on these and other suggestions. Don’t forget to mention anxiety issues when talking with your child’s pediatrician. Anxiety is a treatable mental disorder, but far too many children and adults do not get treatment.