Help Your Child Suffering From Anxiety
Lately, Johnny has been very irritable, and does not want to go to school. You are often called by the school nurse because his stomach and head hurt, though there is no medical cause. He seems tired and restless during the day. He worries frequently, and has lost interest in normal activities. You don’t know what to do.
Sound familiar? Perhaps this is your daughter or son. It sounds like anxiety. But what is anxiety? Anxiety is a natural human reaction, and an alarm system that’s activated whenever we perceive danger or a threat. We can feel it as physical sensations, like dizziness, a rapid heartbeat, and it may also manifest via stomach aches, headaches, and nausea. These sensations, called the fight-flight response, are caused by a rush of adrenaline and other stress hormones that prepare the body to make a quick getaway or “flight” from danger.
There seems to be no specific cause of anxiety, but research indicates that several things seem to play a role. Growing up in a family where others are fearful or anxious can teach a child to view the world as dangerous. Likewise, a child who grows up in an environment that is dangerous may learn to be fearful or expect the worst. Furthermore, things that happen in a child’s life can set the stage for anxiety disorders later in life.
Although all kids experience anxiety in certain situations, most do not develop anxiety disorders. Those who do, however, will have one or more of the following signs excessive worry most days of the week, for weeks on end, trouble sleeping, restlessness or fatigue, trouble concentrating, and irritability. These problems can affect a child’s daily functioning, especially when it comes to concentrating in school, sleeping, and eating. It is common for kids to avoid talking about how they feel, because they’re worried of what others may think.
How do I help my child? You may want to start with a pediatrician, then seek a mental health professional’s guidance. In addition to providing support, the therapist teaches new coping skills, such as relaxation techniques and breathing exercises, to name a few. Sometimes medication may be recommended for which a referral to a child psychiatrist may be encouraged.
Always remember to keep communication open, normalize and validate your child’s experience. Avoid making judgmental statements or minimizing their fears, be supportive and nurturing without hindering and overprotecting. Work with your child’s therapist on any additional support you can provide.