Anxiety in children and how to control it
Children learn quickly. Rapid biological, emotional, and social growth can be taxing because children are usually exposed to several new experiences and ideas, each day. It is natural for children to get anxious. A certain level of anxiety is a normal part of growing up. Children commonly develop fears or phobias. Some common fears that children develop include insects, animals, heights, water, shadows, and dark. These fears normally dissipate with time. Children also tend to feel anxious when going to school or taking exams. Some children feel shy in social situations and may need help in improving their social skills.
The above mentioned scenarios are natural until the anxiety gets in the way or a child’s routine life. All children feel anxious while taking exams, but some of them might feel so anxious that they wouldn’t like to attend school on the day of scheduled exams. Severe anxiety of that intensity may harm children’s mental health. It may affect their self-esteem and confidence, and make them develop anti-social behaviors. It is hard to spot anxiety in young children because they find it hard to express. However, the following signs must be taken seriously:
– Difficulty in sleeping
– Waking up in night
– Excessive irritability
– Regular nightmares/bad dreams
– Wetting the bed.
For older children, we should take seriously the following telltale signs:
– Lack of confidence in trying out new things
– Difficulties performing everyday simple tasks.
– Difficulties in concentrating.
– Problems in eating and sleeping.
– Angry outbursts.
– Negative thoughts and pessimism.
– General reluctance in participating in daily life activities.
Some children have a greater tendency to get worried and anxiety than others. Changes in routine (changing a house or starting out school) normally disturbs children. Children with a distressing or traumatic past (accidents, house fire, death of close relatives) may feel more anxiety than others. Altercations at home and conflicts at schools also make children more insecure. Teenagers generally suffer with social anxiety more than other age groups, and may end up exhibiting great anti-social tendencies.
Anxiety in children may develop into serious conditions and phobias. For instance, ‘Separation anxiety’ is something that babies experience from the age of 6 months to 3 years. Babies usually develop “object permanence” sense at 4-7 months. That enables them to realize that people exist even when they are away. This leads to separation anxiety: a child might cry until the missing parent/familiar character returns to sight. Some children might not experience separation anxiety at all. Some will experience it at a normal degree. For others, certain stressful events (such as, moving to a new home or birth of a new sibling) may trigger anxiety separation of serious proportion. Similarly, generalized anxiety disorders is marked by excessive anxiety that may cause fatigue, irritability, muscle tension, or sleep disturbances. ‘Selective Mutism’ is a type of anxiety that may cause children to refuse to speak in certain social situations. ‘Specific Phobia’ makes children exhibit fear about specific objects or situations. ‘Panic Disorder’ manifests in recurring panic attacks and its symptoms may include shortness of breath, chest pain, choking sensation, and dizziness. ‘Social anxiety disorder’ makes children intensely fearful of participating in certain social situations. These are all serious conditions which can be avoided/mitigated largely by careful parenting.
There are a few ways an anxious child can be helped. Talking helps. Talking usually reassures children of parental support. Parents should try to explain what anxiety is to their children and also educate them about its physical effects. It is helpful to describe it as a temporary phenomenon. That gives children assurance and hope. It is important to find permanent solutions for the children. Quick-fix solutions for long-term human problems usually don’t work. Therefore, parents should try to understand the root cause of anxious behavior and find a permanent resolution.
It is important for parents to teach children the signs of anxiety in themselves. The children must be encouraged to develop trust and ask for help whenever needed. A particular discipline and set of routines keep anxiety away. If a child is anxious due to a distressing event in the past, such as death, bereavement, or separation, look for literature that helps them recognize and understand their feelings. Teaching the children to ‘pause and breathe’ can also be very beneficial, especially when they feel overwhelmed with anxiety. Dedicating a ‘worry place’—a place where children could think about the source of their anxieties and a ‘calm place’—a place where children could put aside their worries can help. These ideas will only work well if they are placed firmly and permanently into the routines and habits of children.
If a change is imminent, speak about it and prepare the child for the future. The parents must not be overprotected or anxious and maintain a calm demeanor while speaking to the children. Distractions can help young children lessen anxiety. For instance, if a child is anxious about going to school, playing games while making the way to school can provide good distraction. The parents should also encourage the children to write daily diaries and write about their worries for later references. Good parenting is all about going an extra mile and ensuring that the children always stay protected.
If a child’s anxiety is severe and persists, then getting professional help becomes imperative. Excessive anxiety will affect the schooling and overall growth of children. Therefore, one must always be willing to seek help, when necessary.