How To Treat Anxiety In Kids
Understanding Anxiety Remedies
Anxiety disorders are the most frequently diagnosed type of mental health disorder in children under the age of 18. While some forms of anxiety are considered developmentally normal, extreme fear and anxiety can interfere with a child’s ability to function in school and social settings.
When considering how to treat anxiety in kids, it is important to understand the different anxiety remedies that are available, including different forms of psychotherapy, prescription medications, and homeopathic remedies.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is how the body naturally responds to a stressful situation or concern about the future. While everyone feels anxiety from time to time, some people, including children, may begin to feel extreme feelings of anxiety for an extended period of time. When extreme, persistent feelings of anxiety begin to interfere with your child’s daily life, they may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
What are symptoms of anxiety in children?
Anxiety in children may present differently than anxiety in adults, and the symptoms often depend on the type of anxiety a child is experiencing.
In general, children experiencing anxiety may express fear or worry, but they may also be irritable and angry or have trouble sleeping. Anxious children may lash out as a result of their fears or may keep their worries inside and appear overly quiet or eager to please.
Physical symptoms of anxiety can include things like stomach aches, fatigue, or headaches.
Symptoms of specific types of anxiety in children are outlined below.
Symptoms of general anxiety in children:
- Worrying about future events or things that might happen in the future
- Worrying about family members, friends, school, or other activities
- Worrying about embarrassing themselves or making a mistake
- Feeling of low self esteem or self confidence
- Worrying about bad things happening
Symptoms of separation anxiety in children:
- Constant worrying about the safety of parents or guardians
- Physical complaints that may include stomach aches or other pain
- Being excessively clingy, particularly to parents or guardians
- Difficulty sleeping, nightmares, or night terrors
- Refusing to go to school or activities where the child is separated from the parent
- Refusing to sleep away from their home
- Experiencing panic or throwing tantrums when being separated from parents or guardians
Symptoms of social anxiety in children:
- Difficulty making friends
- Avoiding social situations
- Worries about talking to new people or meeting new people
- Fears of embarrassment or making mistakes
- Worries about people making fun of them
Symptoms of phobia disorder in children:
- Extreme fear about a specific situation or thing (such as going to the doctor or cats)
- Fear of the situation or thing disrupts normal daily activities
- Avoidance of specific situations or things
Symptoms of panic disorder in children:
- Experiencing episodes of sudden, intense, and unexpected fear (panic attacks) that are accompanied by some or all of the following physical symptoms:
- Racing or pounding heartbeat
- Feeling dizzy
- Feeling shaky
- Difficulty breathing or chest pain
- Feeling sweaty
How much anxiety in children is normal?
All children experience some amount of anxiety and feelings of anxiety are considered normal and even expected at various points during childhood. Anxiety often occurs in children when they are faced with a new situation and aren’t sure how best to navigate it. Some amount of anxiety is also healthy in children because it helps to keep them safe from potential dangers.
While some parents may feel as if they have failed if their child expresses feelings of anxiety, some level of anxiety is to be expected. The types of things and situations that a child may be anxious about typically change as a child gets older.
Common fears based on age are outlined below.
- Infants and toddlers: Separation from caregivers, loud noises, strangers
- Ages 2-3: Fire, animals, thunder and lightning, darkness, water
- Ages 4-5: Monsters, bugs, getting lost, death
- Ages 5-7: School, germs/illness, natural disasters
- Ages 7-12: Burglars and kidnappers, performance anxiety, social situations
When should parents be concerned about anxiety?
While some degree of anxiety in children is normal, children who express extreme anxiety may need help in overcoming their worries and fears. Although many children outgrow their anxiety about certain objects or situations as they age, some worries can be much longer lasting than others.
Parents should be concerned about anxiety in their child if the child begins to exhibit signs of extreme distress, such as difficulty breathing, crying, or physical meltdowns, or if the child attempts to avoid certain situations, people, or things, particularly if the objects of avoidance are daily activities.
When a child begins to exhibit signs of extreme anxiety, parents should recommend seeking an evaluation from a qualified mental health professional.
If possible, it is recommended that parents consult with a professional who has specific experience or training in working with children or adolescents. Because anxiety may present differently in children as compared to adults, it is beneficial to work with a professional who understands the unique manifestations of anxiety in children.
A mental health professional can help you determine what types of treatments may work best for the treatment of anxiety in your child.
How do you treat anxiety in kids?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that is oriented around the belief that how we think and act also affects how we feel inside. Through CBT, therapists work with patients to change distorted thinking or dysfunctional behavior in order to help influence their emotions. When CBT is used in children with anxiety, therapists often focus on changing the behavior that children exhibit when feeling anxious, such as avoiding certain situations.
CBT in children with anxiety often focuses on exposing children to the things that cause them anxiety in a controlled, safe setting. For example, a child with separation anxiety may be exposed to their parent walking slightly farther away until the child experiences anxiety, at which point the parent would return. Children eventually gain confidence in uncertain situations and they find that their anxiety fades. Over the course of treatment, children unlearn unhealthy coping mechanisms such as escaping, avoidance, or engaging in ritual behaviors.
Attention Bias Modification Treatment
Depending on the age of the child, attention bias modification treatment (ABMT) may be an effective form of therapy for children who do not respond to CBT. This form of therapy, which is based on the premise that people with anxiety tend to focus excessively on information they perceive as threatening, uses computer-based training programs to help shift the mind’s focus away from threatening information.
Studies on the use of ABMT have been primarily focused on the effectiveness of the treatment in adults, but within the past decade, some research has been conducted on the effectiveness of the treatment in children with anxiety. Thus far, the studies appear promising and indicate that ABMT may significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression in children.
Children with severe anxiety may benefit from the use of prescription medications that help relieve symptoms of anxiety. Prescription drugs used to treat anxiety commonly include antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and drugs called benzodiazepines, which are used for the management of acute anxiety.
SSRIs, such as Prozac or Lexapro, are designed for long term use but can be associated with side effects such as nausea, headache, stomach ache and insomnia. Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax or Ativan, are the most effective means of reducing the symptoms of intense acute anxiety, such as panic attacks, but they are not intended for long term use and can be habit forming.
While taking medications can be a helpful tool for navigating anxiety, most physicians recommend pairing the use of medications with psychotherapy to address the underlying cause of anxiety.
Homeopathic remedies designed to ease symptoms of anxiety in children may also be helpful for some kids. Unlike prescription medications, homeopathic remedies may contain organic and non-GMO ingredients that have been used to ease feelings of worries and tension, reduce fatigue, and lessen irritability naturally for centuries. Homeopathic remedies may help your child to feel more balanced and relaxed throughout the day and help to keep symptoms of anxiety at bay.
Parents looking to treat anxiety in their kids have numerous options that can help reduce symptoms of fear and worry. Psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy and attention bias modification treatment can help to change the way that children react to certain situations and objects that cause anxiety, while prescription medications and homeopathic remedies may reduce physical and mental symptoms of worries and tension.
Make sure to consult with a physician if your child’s anxiety seems extreme or begins to interfere with their daily activities.