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Let's talk about anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of fear or apprehension about what is to come and is the body’s natural response to stress. While it is normal to feel anxious about social situations or conflicts in the playground, anxiety becomes a problem for kids when it prevents them from fulfilling tasks and living their life. 

What are the kinds of anxiety disorders?

It is important to understand that each child's experiences with anxiety are unique. Their anxiety may be caused by genetic factors, chemical imbalances in the brain, life situations or learned behaviours. There are many kinds of anxiety disorders that can affect kids and teens, including:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder - Kids with GAD worry over things that wouldn't bother their peers, like homework, making mistakes, playing at recess and lunchtime, birthday parties, riding the school bus or even war, the weather and their future. 
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder - Kids with separation anxiety experience stress when they are away from their parents or home. They may miss school, saying they feel too sick or upset to go. They may cling to a parent, cry, or refuse to go to activities without their parent and at home, they may have trouble falling asleep or sleeping alone. 
  • Social Anxiety Disorder - Kids with social anxiety are often afraid of what others will think or say. They obsessively worry that they may say or do something embarrassing, that they might sound or look weird, and they consciously avoid being the centre of attention. If they get called on in class to answer a question, they may freeze or panic and participating in group activities can cause severe stress.
  • Panic Disorder - Kids who have a panic disorder may experience anxiety attacks that cause overwhelming physical symptoms, such as trembling, a racing heart rate, and shortness of breath. These panic attacks can happen at any time.
  • Specific Phobias - Most of the time, when kids feel afraid of things like monsters, the dark or animals, adults can help them feel safe and calm again through comforting strategies. A phobia, however, is more intense, with kids having a long-lasting fear of a specific thing. The child dreads the thing they fear and when confronted with this fear, they are hard to comfort.

What are the signs & symptoms of anxiety in kids?

Kids with anxiety experience intense, excessive and persistent worry about everyday situations such as seeing their friends, separation from their parents, or their performance at school. They may cling to a parent, teacher or specific friend in these situations and refuse to talk about how they're feeling.

A child with anxiety also experiences physical symptoms, which are the result of an overactive "fight or flight" response. When the body senses danger, it triggers the release of natural chemicals, preparing us for confrontation. This can affect heart rate, breathing, muscles, nerves, and digestion. Anxiety can present a range of symptoms including;

  • Feeling excessively restless, tense, irritable or edgy
  • Excessive fear or worry about the past, present or future
  • Obsessive thinking about hypothetical situations and relationships
  • Physical symptoms such as hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening chest, quick breathing, pins and needles, dizziness or nausea.

How can I support my child with anxiety?

If your child has an anxiety disorder, there are many ways you can help them develop coping mechanisms and overcome their fears. You can: 

  • Find a trained therapist and take your child to all their appointments. We love practices that involve play therapy, as this approach allows kids to creatively act out their inner and real-life experiences. This helps kids to build insight, express, regulate, communicate, practice and master new skills as well as their emotional responses. Communicate with the therapist and ask how you can best help your child.
  • Provide a safe, non-judgmental space where your child can talk about their feelings. Listen and let them know that you understand, love, and accept them. A caring relationship with you helps your child build inner strengths.
  • Encourage your child to take small steps forward, whether that be through short playdates away from home, joining a sports team or participating in group activities at school. Provide reassurance by letting them know you're only a phone call away.
  • Praise your child for their efforts to cope with their fears and be patient, it takes a while for kids to develop healthy coping mechanisms and feel better.

Looking for more insight and advice on how to support your child with anxiety? Check out Kids Helpline, Raising Children, The Child Mind Institute or chat with your therapist at Inspire Ability.

 

 

 

 

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