Everyone experiences some form of anxiety at some point (or points) in their lives, whether they are strong fears or not. For children, it is no different. And if you are a parent, you have probably tried to protect your child(ren) from many of life’s anxious moments. Maybe you have even tried with Covid19. While the protection is our way of showing love and care, we actually need to let kids navigate the complex world of anxiety. In fact, understanding and dealing with anxiety is an essential life skill that will serve any child well for their future because, believe it, or not, life is unpredictable and where there is light, there is also darkness. In this blog, we will briefly go over some basics of understanding anxiety in children and provide some phrases that can help to calm down an anxious child.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is really about fears and worries. Both fear and worry can appear at any time during a child’s development. Sometimes, the fear or worry will occupy the child’s mind so much that it makes him or her feel sad and hopeless. For instance, for some toddlers, they may become super distressed when a parent has to leave them at school (or in another environment), even if the environment is safe and the child is well cared for.
Some fears and worries are easy to outgrow as time passes. However, when the worry or fear persists more than 2 months and interferes with a child’s schooling, home life, or social/play activities, then the child may have an anxiety disorder, or even depression (will touch on how the two are related later).
Some examples of anxiety disorders include:
· separation anxiety-being very afraid when parent(s)/caregiver is not there
· phobia(s)– being extremely fearful of certain objects, and/or event such as insects, going to the doctor, sleeping in the dark, etc
· social anxiety-being afraid of going to school or other places where there are people
· generalized anxiety– being very worried about the future and about bad things happening
· panic disorder-experiencing a sudden, unexpected and intense fear that involve strong symptoms such as pounding heart, shortness of breath, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty (CDC.gov.)
Interestingly, anxiety can also cause children to become irritable and angry. Some of these symptoms may include trouble sleeping, as well as physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, or stomachaches. It is important to understand here that while some children express their worries overtly, some children will not and will keep things to themselves. These children may go undiagnosed and need more of our undivided attention. It is important to try and get them to express themselves however best they feel comfortable doing.
The link with depression
While it is normal for children to feel the occasional blues from time to time, however, some children’s symptoms may linger to the point that they feel a profound sadness or become completely uninterested in things that they once enjoyed. They may also feel completely helpless or hopeless in situations that they are not able to control, let alone change, such as post natural or manmade disasters, such as a recent explosion/blast, flood, or pandemic (local and/or global). When they feel persistently sad and hopeless for more than 2 months and it is affecting multiple areas of his or her life in general, the child may be suffering from depression.
Some examples of behaviors often seen in kids with depression:
· feeling often sad, hopeless, or irritated
· not interested in fun activities
· changing their eating patterns—either eating more or less than normal
· changing their sleep pattern—either sleeping a lot or less than normal
· often being tired/sluggish, tense and restless
· unable to sustain focus/pay attention for more than 15 to 20 minutes
· feeling worthless, useless or guilty
· showing self-injury and partaking in self-destructive behaviors
In some extreme cases, (extreme) depression can lead a child to think about committing suicide or to make a plan about it. It is recommended to keep an eye out for notes lying around and images that might seem alarming to look at as well as placing any sharp objects that can cause physical injury out of sight. To emphasize our recommendations even more, we bring you this rather shocking statistic: according to the CDC, suicide is the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10-24.
That said, like anxiety, some children with depression may not appear to be sad, or even talk about their feelings of being sad. Also, depression might make some children get into more trouble or act unmotivated, causing adults, including teachers, to label them as ‘lazy’ or ‘troublemakers’. We need to watch out for these children and may need to professional advice as an early intervention. In the event that you are not sure about your child’s situation, please feel free to give us a call; the first 15 minutes are free of charge.