Recognizing Anxiety in Children: How to Spot and Identify Symptoms

We're all feeling anxious in the era of COVID-19. Our daily routines have been disrupted, simple tasks like grocery shopping are now much more complicated, we're separated from from friends and family, and there's the possibility of becoming infected. Some families are also experiencing financial distress or have lost family members to the virus. As an adult, you know what stress and anxiety feel and look like for you, but how do children exhibit these emotions? This repost from 2018, describes how to identify anxiety in your child and how to help. The world is big and new to young children, and...fears of the unknown are common. For parents of young children, watching your son or daughter exhibit potential symptoms of anxiety can feel particularly distressing. As a parent, you strive to make childhood a carefree, joyful time. But even in loving, safe, and supportive households, issues of anxiety can still come up. If you suspect your child is showing signs of anxiety, it’s important to first understand that you are not alone. In fact, it is estimated that between 12% and 24% of American children suffer from psychological disorders at some point in their development.¹ The good news is, there are many resources available to help your child manage anxiety and get back to the business of being a kid. Parents often feel confused (and anxious themselves!) when trying to navigate anxiety issues. Taking it one step at a time can be helpful. First, you’ll want to determine if your child is experiencing anxiety—or simply feeling an appropriate amount of worry for their age. What is the difference between anxiety and worry? One of the most important markers of anxiety is proportion. A child suffering from an anxiety disorder may be overwhelmed by intense fear or worry that do not match the situation.2 For example, a child suffering from separation anxiety may be so consumed by fear that something bad will happen when away from their parents, they may refuse to go to school. It’s normal for a child to experience some hesitation when leaving their parents, but if it is impacting their ability to enjoy time with their friends or leave their parents’ side, it can be considered more than an ordinary worry. Children experience a myriad of fears that can be elevated from worry to anxiety. In addition to separation anxiety, fear of the dark, strangers, doctors, and even a fear of rejection by their peers are just a few common worries. Whatever the worries are, and no matter how trivial they may seem to an adult, their concerns should be taken seriously. The world is big and new to young children, and therefore fears of the unknown are common. What are signs of anxiety in children? Keep in mind that every child is different, but there are some typical signs of anxiety in children. Symptoms tend to present themselves both physically and emotionally. You may find that your child asks the

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Recognizing Anxiety in Children: How to Spot and Identify Symptoms 2020-05-05T15:37:37-04:00

Small Steps Can Conquer Big Fears: Helping Kids Overcome Phobias

Fear is a natural response to threatening situations, but sometimes fear can prevent people from participating in everyday experiences. A phobia is an irrational fear of something. When a child struggles with a phobia, it can greatly impact their lives and the lives of their families. Psychologists Claire A. B. Freeland, PhD and Jacqueline B. Toner, PhD explain how parents can help kids with phobias overcome their fears by supporting gradual, increasing exposure to the feared situation, helping kids learn mindfulness and self-calming techniques, promoting positive self-talk, and monitoring exposure to frightening messages from the world at large in Magination Press book What to Do When Fear Interferes: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Phobias. Take small steps The most effective way to overcome a phobia is exposure, which requires the child to experience the feared object for a period of time long enough for their extreme physical and emotional reactions to dissipate. One of the greatest challenges in helping a child to overcome a phobia can be convincing them to hang in there rather than avoid their fear, and to provide support as they do so. It’s important to approach the trigger in a modulated way. Initially, a child may need help choosing tasks that are far removed from the feared experience, such as imagining a thunderstorm or looking at pictures of insects. Taking it slowly and letting a child experience success by overcoming mildly scary situation will allow them to build confidence in facing increasingly more feared situations. Build skills In addition to helping a child increase her exposure to her phobia, parents can help her develop strategies to manage her reactions to scary experiences. By developing positive self-talk, a child can learn to focus on rational thinking and self-cheerleading to proceed with exposure experiences. Providing rewards, both tangible and social, will help them feel accomplishment and pride in taking on gradually more difficult challenges. Learning coping strategies that help them to relax and de-stress can reduce overall anxious tendencies, making success more likely. Manage Media Phobias can result from frightening or traumatic experiences, but more often, they don’t have a known source. Children who tend to be anxious may be likely to develop a specific phobia. Children are particularly susceptible to developing vicarious fears. This happens when they observe another person reacting with intense fear. Or, a fear can develop vicariously by watching a movie where another is afraid or even from a news report that accentuates the damage caused by a storm or the abundance of a particular illness this season. Parents should be aware of messages children may encounter that could serve to reinforce their fears. Gently redirect adult conversation about impending weather events, recent accidents, or out-of-control animals. Judiciously monitor children’s experiences with frightening messages they receive through the media. When such messages still manage to reach a child, a parent can counter scary messages with more realistic views of the possible danger and how people can stay safe. Helping

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Small Steps Can Conquer Big Fears: Helping Kids Overcome Phobias 2019-07-24T13:39:26-04:00

Identifying Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in Children

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that causes someone to have intruding and recurrent thoughts, called obsessions. These intruding thoughts can become all-consuming. Compulsions are strong urges to do something over and over to feel a sense of relief from these obsessions. They’re often referred to as rituals for this reason. Compulsions are a clever way to feel better at first because they immediately reduce anxiety. Unfortunately, they can increase over time and become all-consuming as well, making the person to feel even worse. Obsessions and compulsions work together, like a game of volleyball. You need both to keep them going. Compulsions feed obsessions. By working to resist urges to do compulsions, someone with OCD can diminish their obsessions. According to the International OCD Foundation (1), common obsessions and compulsions include: Obsessions Worrying about germs, getting sick, or dying. Extreme fears about bad things happening or doing something wrong. Feeling that things have to be “just right.” Disturbing and unwanted thoughts or images about hurting others. Disturbing and unwanted thoughts or images of a sexual nature. Compulsions Excessive checking (re-checking that the door is locked, that the oven is off). Excessive washing and/or cleaning. Repeating actions until they are “just right” or starting things over again. Ordering or arranging things. Mental compulsions (excessive praying, mental reviewing). Frequent confessing or apologizing. Saying lucky words or numbers. Excessive reassurance seeking (e.g., always asking, “Are you sure I’m going to be okay?”). The truth is, most people repeat certain behaviors from time to time and it’s common for children to have rituals or routines before school, after school or at bedtime. OCD rituals differ in that they become too frequent, and most importantly, they’re upsetting to the child and get in the way of everyday activities. Some people wonder if OCD is the same as worrying, but it’s not. Worries come and go, such as, “What if I’m not good enough to make the team?” or “What if I don’t have anyone to sit with at lunch?” With OCD, the same upsetting thought comes back again and again. Children don’t always know how to talk about their obsessions and compulsions. It doesn’t make sense to them so how could it make sense to someone else? They may wonder what’s wrong with them or why they’re like this when no one else seems to be. It can be embarrassing. For this reason, they can be very good at hiding their symptoms and suffering in silence. Parents may notice the following behaviors in children with OCD: You are always waiting for them. Timely transitions are difficult for children with OCD because they’re functioning within the time constraints of their OCD. Compulsive behaviors may take time to get “just right.” They take a long time to do everyday tasks, such as taking a shower, washing their hands, getting dressed, finishing a project. They may repeat the same actions in the same order repeatedly, such as turning in place, touching

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Identifying Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in Children 2019-01-25T11:16:43-05:00
Illustrations of children riding a bicycle, meditating, and playing