The high rates of childhood anxiety in the United States disproves the idea that childhood is a carefree time for every person. Studies vary but show that at least 10% of school-age children report symptoms of anxiety. Untreated, at least 40% of these children will grow into adulthood with an anxiety condition.
Symptoms of childhood anxiety include extreme shyness, avoidant behaviors, constant worrying, clinging, physical distress (upset stomach, headaches, fatigue), sleeping problems, difficulty staying focused on a task, and expressions of self-doubt and uncertainty. These children may need lots of reassurance, refuse to go to school, avoid eye contact, shrink from new situations, or avoid performance situations. Their growth and development and academic or social progress is often impaired.
Childhood anxiety is a growing problem due to the increased stresses of current-day life. Children experience thier parents’ worry, anxiety, and depression. Financial worries, moving, changing schools, along with parental conflict or divorce, are some of the major stressors that push a child’s coping skills to the limit and can bring on the onset of acute anxiety symptoms.
How can parents or the adults in a child’s life help the child cope with anxiety?
- Parents must work on their own anxiety and the maladaptive communication patterns they transmit to the child. Caretakers who have good coping skills are important models for the child. Parents must work on their own anxiety and the maladaptive communication patterns they transmit to the child. Caregivers who have good coping skills are important models for the child. Being around any calm person is calming.
- Set aside quiet time every day for calming activities; after school or before bedtime are good times. This might include one-on-one time with the child to talk, read stories, listen to soft music, or have a snack. Relaxation CDs are available for children.
- Talk with the child’s teacher if the stress is school related. Academic pressures, learning problems, and bullying are a few of the issues that may be difficult for the child to cope with.
- If the child is shy, encourage and help him or her engage in activities with other children. Help him or her learn the social skills that will make him or her more comfortable around other children.
- If none of the helping strategies are effective, consider psychotherapy. There now exists specialized therapy strategies for the different types of childhood anxiety problems.
© Copyright 2009 by By Evelyn Goodman, Psy.D, LMFT. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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