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Anxiety in Children

As our children experience the ups and downs of growing up, they often face moments that stir up feelings of worry and anxiety. Whether it’s dealing with school pressures, making friends, or adjusting to family changes, these challenges can leave our little ones feeling uneasy. It’s important for parents and caregivers to recognize and embrace the complexities of childhood anxiety with warmth and understanding. Today, we’ll explore how we can support our children through tough times, offering insights into the causes of childhood anxiety, common signs to look out for, and practical strategies that nurture their resilience and well-being.

Childhood Anxiety

Anxiety is characterized by a feeling of nervousness and unease about not knowing the outcome of something. For children, anxiety can mean not outgrowing fears and worries that are typical in a young child or feeling pressure from life events that are troubling. This becomes problematic when there are so many fears and worries that they hinder a child’s ability to function or interfere with home, school, and play activities.

Many people struggle with anxiety, and it can affect them in different ways. However, children especially struggle with understanding what anxiety is or perceiving that their fears may be irrational.

Different types of anxieties include:

Separation anxiety often related to being separated from a parent 
Phobias extreme fears of things or situations 
Social anxiety may hinder one’s ability to participate in social interactions 
Generalized anxiety typical worries that interfere with day-to-day functioning 
Panic disorder Involves a physical reaction to strong feelings, leading to sweating, heart racing, trouble breathing 

Some symptoms of anxiety in children include:

Causes of Childhood Anxiety

Anxiety can sometimes run in families. If a parent or sibling has anxiety, there’s a chance a child might develop it too. Kids can also pick up anxious behaviors from people around them, like family members or caregivers who often feel worried or nervous.

Certain events or changes in life can also make a child anxious. Moving to a new place, parents arguing or splitting up, being bullied at school, or dealing with a serious illness can all make kids feel scared and unsure about things.

Some children who have conditions like ADHD or autism might also feel more anxious. These conditions can make it harder for them to handle things, which can lead to more worry and stress.

We can’t stop anxiety from happening, but we can help kids deal with their fears early on. Talking openly with children about their feelings, reassuring them, and teaching them ways to handle stress can give them confidence and help them feel safer. It’s important for parents and caregivers to be supportive and understanding so that kids can grow up feeling strong and able to handle tough times.

Tips for Supporting an Anxious Child

  1. Be patient and take it slow. Approach the process with empathy and understanding, acknowledging that overcoming anxiety takes time and effort. Encourage children to face their fears gradually, in manageable steps. This allows them to build confidence and resilience over time.
  2. Model openness and vulnerability. Have open and honest conversations with your children about anxiety and worries. Creating a safe space where children feel comfortable expressing their feelings can help them understand that they’re not alone in experiencing anxiety.
  3. Provide ample reassurance. Reassurance plays a vital role in helping children navigate their anxious thoughts and feelings. Let your kiddos know that what they’re experiencing is normal and that it’s okay to feel anxious at times. Validating their emotions helps children feel understood and accepted, reducing feelings of isolation and uncertainty.
  4. Seek professional help. You can play a proactive role in their child’s mental health by finding a therapist who specializes in working with children and ensuring that their child attends all scheduled appointments. Therapy provides children with valuable coping strategies, tools, and support systems to manage their anxiety in healthy ways.

Professional Treatment

When you seek help for your child’s mental health, you’ll likely come across Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It’s a method that helps kids deal with anxiety by changing how they think and act. With CBT, children learn to challenge negative thoughts and behaviors, replacing them with better ways of coping.

One important part of CBT for anxiety is Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). This means gradually facing fears in a safe place. By doing this, kids learn to manage their anxiety and become stronger.

Sometimes, doctors may suggest using medication along with therapy to help children with serious or long-lasting anxiety feel better. One type of medication they might prescribe is called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medicines can ease symptoms and make it easier for kids to take part in therapy.

It’s important to remember that medication is just one part of a bigger plan for helping a child with anxiety. Treating anxiety takes time and effort. It’s important for both kids and caregivers to be patient and keep trying as they work towards feeling better.

If you or a family member needs behavioral and/or mental health treatment, but aren’t sure where to start, read more here or call 888-764-4161. We’re here to support!

About the Expert

headshot of Yael Eisenberg

Yael Eisenberg received her Bachelors and Masters of Nursing degrees from New York University College of Nursing, and she completed a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit Fellowship as a Registered Nurse. For the past five years, Yael has worked at Northwell Health Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, where she diagnosed and treated children with autism, ADHD, anxiety, depression and oppositional behavior.