Anxiety in children isn’t that common, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The CDC reports that 7.1% of children between the ages of 3 and 17 have been diagnosed with anxiety, which sounds small…until you realize that means about 4.4 million children struggle with it. I was one of those 4.4 million.
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I developed anxiety when I was 13. A previously very outgoing child, I soon began to suffer from intense nerves around kids my age, and school classes caused my heart to race in the back row. It was brutal, and I didn’t have a name for it. As an adult, I finally brought myself into therapy and was almost immediately diagnosed with general anxiety disorder.
It was nice to know there was a reason behind my heart palpitations, but I wish I had known when I was younger. Luckily, I had an amazing support system in my mom. If your child is struggling with anxiety, you can take a page out of her book – and advice from a GAD-sufferer, too.
Validate their feelings.
The last thing a child with anxiety wants to hear is to just “get over it” or “act like a big kid.” Anxiety is seriously debilitating and not just a silly phase. To hear that their feelings are valid is crucial for a child to feel safe within their support system. If you give your child the ability to express themselves without feeling belittled, they will trust you more.
Give your child outlets.
If your child enjoys reading, playing music, writing, cooking, etc., encourage them to use these as outlets for their anxiety. Consider them “safe” activities, where your child has the option to enjoy themselves minus the fear. These can also be helpful when trying to calm your child: “Here, once we get out of this crowd, I can read you your favorite book.”
Create a routine.
Kids thrive with routines, so create a schedule that works for them. Anxiety can cause fear of the unknown, so creating set times for certain activities can give your child a sense of security. For example, knowing that they’ll shower after they eat, then read for an hour, then go to sleep, can reassure your child that things are okay. Leave room for some flexibility should their anxiety flare up and they need time with an outlet.
Create your own language.
I read a story about how a child used a specific word to express that they were about to have a panic attack, which allowed his parents to get to the root of the problem before the breakdown happened. This can be extremely important to your child if they can give a word or phrase to what they’re feeling – especially if they don’t necessarily know what a panic attack is.
Don’t get frustrated.
Chances are, your child is already frustrated enough. No one is more afraid of or mad than themselves. Instead, direct them to an outlet, adhere to a routine, listen to what they’re saying, and validate. Reassurance is crucial when children are spinning out and feeling lost and alone. A solid hug and conversation about their anxiety has the ability to calm the situation.
Look for child therapists.
If nothing seems to be working, your next step may be to find a therapist who specializes in anxiety in children. Do diligent research in effective treatment that works for your child, ask your child’s guidance counselor (if their school has one) and fellow parents for recommendations, and have multiple meetings with different therapists until you find the one that works best with your child.
Be your child’s best advocate.
Children don’t always have the language for what they’re feeling, or know what questions to ask. Speak up for them at doctors’ appointments, research new therapies and coping mechanisms, and make changes in their lives that will help them to thrive — from switching schools to removing them from extracurriculars. Children with anxiety are capable of living life to the fullest. Sometimes, they just need a little extra help from you.
It’s not your fault that your child has anxiety, so don’t blame yourself. Do you have a child with anxiety? How do you help manage it? Help out and let us know in the comments.
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