Anxiety in kids is characterized by worrying over even the littlest of things. Here's what you need to know.
Kids can have bad days just like Mom or Dad can, but anxiety’s another story: about one in eight kids suffers from it, says the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and it’s no fun: Without help anxiety can lead to poor school performance, social isolation and even dangerous behaviors.
Not Hard to Spot
Worrying over a test or an upcoming recital is perfectly normal, but an anxious kid cannot be
“Appropriate anxiety is important for survival, but inappropriate forms can shut down a kid,” says Elizabeth Wassenaar, M.S., M.D., an adolescent and adult psychiatrist at the Lindner Center of HOPE. She explains that pathological anxiety can get in the way of enjoying the main pieces of life — work, love and play. Anxious kids can obsess about not only getting their homework done but getting it done correctly. Kids with anxiety can struggle with meeting and keeping friends and even fun activities can become sources of stress.
“Play is such an important part of childhood,” says Wassenaar. “And when life isn’t fun, anxiety is often the culprit,” she adds.
She says parents should take notice when kids don’t want to participate anymore.
On the flip side, anxiety can be overlooked as a consequence of our driven society, says Wassenaar. Since anxiety exists on the premise that a child isn’t worthy, he might attempt to hide his anxiousness by overachieving at multiple activities, loading up his schedule with a lot of this or that.
Ways to Help
Treatment for anxiety will depend on what type of anxiety your child has. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy works to identify anxious thinking in younger children. Older kids often respond well to group therapy, where they meet and learn to socialize with other kids facing the same struggles. “It’s about learning to put that anxiety bully back where it belongs,” says Wassenaar.
In the Family
Wassenaar says that while children of anxious parents are more prone to anxiety disorders, parents with anxiety are often a child’s best asset.
“Self-awareness is a powerful tool,” she says, explaining that anxious parents might recognize their child’s symptoms earlier. And because parents with anxiety can truly understand a struggling child’s feelings, they can sympathize in a more meaningful way than just telling a kid “there’s nothing to worry about.”
A first step for any parent, according to Wassenaar, is to reach out: Talk to your child about what’s going on and ask your pediatrician for resources and referrals.
The real key to making things better lies in your understanding how anxiety works, how it affects your child and how it affects the entire family: It’s easy to cater to anxiety, Wassenaar says. Some parents go out of their way to help children avoid situations that bring on anxious feelings, but that may mean everything the family does revolves around the child and his anxiety.
“It’s important to realize what anxiety is taking away from the family, and to take back control with education and specific intervention steps,” she says.
The Lindner Center of HOPE (4075 Old Western Row Road in Mason) offers specialized treatment for ages 11 – 17 who suffer with issues such as depression and bipolar disorders, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders, eating disorders and more.
Learn more at 513-536-0537 or visit lindercenterofhope.org/sibcy-house/adolescent-services/.