SWISS MEDICAL EXPERTISE: ZURICH, MALLORCA, LONDON, NEW YORK

11 Minutes

Edited & clinically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Childhood can easily be an anxious time for kids as they continue to navigate new environments, people, and experiences. For most of these children, anxiety, i.e. the brain’s natural response to fear, is beneficial as it helps them avoid threatening or dangerous situations. The symptoms of anxiety are, in fact, a normal part of development as long as these feelings come and go. However, suppose a child suddenly experiences excessive and persistent anxiety that is not linked to danger or is disruptive to their daily life. In that case, it might be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Because everyday anxiety is so common in children, it can be difficult to understand whether their symptoms are developmentally normal or a sign of a more serious mental issue. Understanding anxiety symptoms and learning how to provide your child with the help they need to overcome them can make the diagnosis easier and recovery more achievable.

Children can have different fears, such as being separated from their parents or being in the dark. Even if these children are safe, cared for, and nurtured by loving parents, they may still develop distress when they get away from them. When children do not learn how to progress through or outgrow these fears and worries, they may start interfering with their personal and school life. Many of them eventually end up with an anxiety disorder.

Some of the most common types of anxiety disorders in children include:

  • Separation Anxiety- characterised by experiencing fear when being away from a parent, caregiver, or home
  • Phobias or irrational or extreme fears associated with a specific situation or thing, such as dogs, bugs, or being in closed spaces
  • Social Anxiety- characterised by being extremely fearful of situations where others may scrutinise or judge you
  • General Anxiety- that includes worrying about the future and having a constant feeling that might things are going to happen
  • Panic Disorder- characterised by having repetitive episodes of sudden, extreme fear that lead to shakiness, dizziness, and trouble breathing

While most people relate anxiety in children with fears and worries, it can also make them irritable and angry. Sometimes, they can interfere with their physical health and sleeping schedule too. Because many people keep these worries to themselves, their diagnosis might be overlooked.

The signs and symptoms of anxiety in children can be difficult to identify since some of them are a normal part of their development. These symptoms are often more behavioural than emotional since children are too young to articulate their feelings and thoughts.

Some common behaviours that might indicate an underlying anxiety disorder include:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Deviant behaviour
  • Frequent crying or throwing tantrums
  • Panic attacks
  • Constantly seeking security
  • Extreme shyness with unfamiliar people or situations
  • Clinginess

If the symptoms mentioned above are long-lasting, persistent, and excessive relative to the situation triggering it, they may signal a more serious issue.

Professional treatment is often warranted for helping your child with fears and worries. However, before formulating a treatment plan, an expert may require you to bring in your child for a detailed assessment based on which an individualised care plan can be curated.

Initial Assessment

The best treatment plan for your child depends on the severity of their anxiety, the duration of the problem, their current coping level, and multiple other factors. To gain all the necessary information, a clinician usually performs an in-depth assessment which includes:

  • A detailed examination of your child’s current symptoms, intensity, and length. As a parent, you can significantly help with this step of the initial assessment by noting down any pattern of symptoms you notice in your child and bringing the record in on the assessment day.
  • A detailed look into your child’s history and upbringing
  • A thorough family history, including a past history of psychiatric illnesses in the family. This step is important as anxiety disorders can be easily passed down from one generation to another
  • An assessment of your current mental health as a parent

Formulation of a Treatment Strategy

Following an assessment, the clinician will formulate a treatment plan that blends psychotherapy, like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), with medications. Some children may not require medication, especially if their anxiety symptoms are mild or non-disruptive.

To effectively deliver the treatment plan, a multidisciplinary therapeutic team works together to assist the children in different areas of life. The team includes therapists, psychiatrists, physicians, classroom instructors, school counsellors, and parents. Including multiple family-based interventions and counselling sessions is common to enable an anxious child to flourish in personal and academic life.

Early intervention is the key to faster and more effective recovery when treating anxiety in children. On top of minimising the effects of childhood anxiety, it can also reduce the risk factors of developing new symptoms as they grow older. Most children who receive appropriate treatment for anxiety disorders report a significant reduction or complete elimination of their symptoms and will most likely not be as affected by them later in life.

While anxiety treatment for children is highly personalised for each candidate depending on the type of anxiety they have, some common therapies are used in its treatment include:

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)- utilises techniques of mindfulness and acceptance as a way to cope with unwanted feelings healthily, thoughts, and sensations that anxiety triggers.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or talk therapy helps a child identify the negative thought patterns stemming from their anxiety disorder and replaces them with healthier alternatives.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)- enables kids to examine how they manage conflict and intense negative emotions.

While therapy and medications can successfully help children control their anxious thoughts and minds, their effects are temporary. For lasting recovery, parents need to step up and play their part in teaching their children healthy coping skills to tackle anything they do not understand.

Consider the following anxiety help tips for children to help them control their fears and worries at home:

Maintain a balanced sensory diet

A balanced diet helps combat and ward off the meltdowns associated with sensory sensitivities. Get in touch with an occupational therapist to design a diet plan that caters to your child’s emotional health needs.

Listen and understand

The best thing you can do as a parent of an anxious child is to let them speak and actively listen to what they have to say. Try looking at things from their perspective and base your response on it.

Identify stressors

Help your child recognise all the stressors in their life that may potentially lead to an anxiety attack. Using real-life examples helps them understand how these stressors contribute to their current anxiety symptoms.

Do not dismiss

If your child confides in you regarding their feelings, do not dismiss them. Instead, validate their feelings by telling them that it’s normal how they feel and reassure them that you will always be there for them. While it may seem that your anxious child is overreacting at times, their feelings are very much real to them.

Regardless of how much you prepare or educate yourself about your child’s anxiety, there will be times when their stress levels will tip out of balance all of a sudden. In such situations, remind yourself that your efforts have not gone in vain and that even the best of us may find it difficult to cope under stress at times.

Childhood is crucial for brain development and subsequent growth in different aspects of life. Suffering from anxiety throughout this growth phase can often lead to destructive and recurring issues, such as addictions. So before your child’s anxiety starts affecting their mental and physical health, it is imperative to seek help.

Join a specialised children’s rehab today to give your child the best chance at recovery. Give us a call today.

Childhood is crucial for brain development and subsequent growth in different aspects of life. Suffering from anxiety throughout this growth phase can often lead to destructive and recurring issues, such as addictions. So before your child’s anxiety starts affecting their mental and physical health, it is imperative to seek help.

Join a specialised children’s rehab today to give your child the best chance at recovery. Give us a call today.

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