The American Psychological Association estimates 20.5% of children struggle with anxiety, a number that has doubled since the start of the Pandemic.
Just like adults, children are faced with more uncertainty and an ever-changing world rocked by the unknown. To understand anxiety in children, we must understand the disorder itself.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural human response to stress or danger. It is a feeling of fear, apprehension, or uneasiness about something that may happen in the future. Anxiety can be a normal and even helpful response in certain situations, such as when we need to be alert to potential danger or need to perform well in a challenging situation.
However, when anxiety becomes excessive, it can interfere with daily life and can be a symptom of an anxiety disorder.
What are the 7 signs and symptoms of anxiety in children?
Anxiety can begin very young. Many toddlers experience separation anxiety around 18 months when they realize their parents are not consistently with them. As they age, children may develop phobias or worries based on environmental factors like school and family dynamics.
Some common symptoms of anxiety include:
- Excessive worry: Children with anxiety may worry excessively about things that are unlikely to happen or beyond their control.
- Avoidance behaviors: Children with anxiety may avoid certain situations or activities that trigger their anxiety, such as going to school, social events, or trying new things.
- Physical symptoms: Anxiety can also cause physical symptoms in children, such as stomachaches, headaches, nausea, trembling, sweating, or a racing heartbeat.
- Sleep disturbances: Children with anxiety may have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or may have nightmares.
- Irritability or mood changes: Anxiety can cause irritability or mood swings in children.
- Perfectionism: Children with anxiety may set very high standards for themselves and become upset or distressed when they don’t meet them.
- Overthinking or catastrophizing: Children with anxiety may engage in overthinking or catastrophizing, where they imagine the worst-case scenario and become overly worried about it.
How can I help my child understand her anxiety?
Be firm in your understanding of the disorder and be open to starting a conversation with your child. Explain what anxiety is and how it can make you feel. Be sure to normalize it and consider sharing your own experiences. Your child must know it can happen to anyone. She is not alone.
Use age-appropriate language and examples to help your child understand what anxiety feels like. For younger children, you might use simpler terms like “butterflies in your stomach” or “feeling scared.” For older children, you can use more complex terms like “racing thoughts” or “panic attacks.”
Encourage your child to participate in the conversation, too, and share her own experiences of anxiety, if she feels comfortable doing so. This can help her feel heard and validated. Don’t press it if she is uninterested in talking.
Be patient and understanding with your child. It can be difficult to manage anxiety, and it may take time for her to feel comfortable talking about her feelings or using coping strategies.
What are some common coping strategies for children with anxiety?
There are many popular and effective strategies for assisting your child with his anxiety. One of our favorites is the 3-3-3 rule.
The 3-3-3 rule
The 3-3-3 rule is a simple mindfulness technique that can help manage acute anxiety or panic attacks. It is perfect for children because of its simplicity. The technique involves focusing on your surroundings and engaging your senses by following these three steps:
By engaging the senses and focusing on the present moment, the 3-3-3 Rule can help a child calm his racing thoughts and ground himself in the here and now. This can be especially helpful during moments of intense anxiety or panic, as it can help interrupt the cycle of worrying and rumination that can perpetuate feelings of anxiety.
- Look around and name three things you see.
- Listen carefully and name three things you hear.
- Move three parts of your body – for example, tapping your foot, stretching your arms, or clenching and releasing your fists.
Additional coping strategies include:
Deep breathing exercises: Teaching children to take slow, deep breaths can help them feel calmer when they are feeling anxious.
Mindfulness techniques: Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment and can help children learn to regulate their emotions. Activities like yoga, meditation, or focusing on their senses (like smelling something calming or feeling a soft object) can be helpful.
Physical exercise: Regular physical activity can help reduce anxiety and improve overall well-being. Encourage your child to engage in activities they enjoy, such as riding a bike, dancing, or playing a sport.
Positive self-talk: Encourage your child to challenge negative thoughts and replace them with positive statements. For example, if they are worried about a test, they can remind themselves that they studied hard and are prepared.
Relaxation techniques: Encourage your child to engage in activities that help them relax, such as taking a warm bath, listening to calming music, or reading a book.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of therapy that can help children learn to identify and challenge negative thoughts and behaviors. It is an evidence-based approach that is effective in treating anxiety disorders in children.
It’s important to note that coping strategies may need to be tailored to the individual child’s needs and preferences. It can be helpful to work with a healthcare professional or mental health provider to develop a personalized plan for managing your child’s anxiety.
Anxiety and other challenges shouldn’t limit your child’s potential. It’s time to embrace an educational approach that truly understands and meets their unique needs. Start shaping a brighter future for your child now! Contact The Broach School at 904-637-0300. Together, we can find the ideal environment for your child to thrive.