Anxiety in Children and Teens: A Parent’s Guide

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It’s common for children and adolescents to experience anxiety, but there is a distinction between routine worry and persistent anxiety. You can effectively assist your child in managing their symptoms by being aware of the differences.

We always want the best for our kids as parents. We want them to be strong, content, and able to overcome the difficulties of life. With all of the everyday obligations and parenting responsibilities, this is frequently easier said than done. Children, adolescents, and teenagers frequently suffer anxiety at various stages of development. 

A recent survey indicated that over 32% of adolescents in the U.S. had an anxiety condition, a number that has significantly increased over time. Anxiety disorders can be first identified in youngsters between the ages of four and eight. A severe handicap caused by an anxiety problem affects one in four to five teens, according to the study.

Due to disturbances in their regular schedules at school, in their personal and family lives, and in their interactions with peers, the COVID-19 pandemic has made children and teenagers more anxious. In current stressful times, it can be challenging to distinguish between children’s and teens’ typical fears and anxiety disorders. For instance, young people frequently worry about their schooling or passing examinations, but once the current stressor has passed, this is typically only temporary. Worrying, though, can have a severe impact on a child’s overall quality of life if it persists and interferes with their regular activities.

The good news is that anxiety is a very treatable disorder, even though dealing with your child’s anxiety can be challenging as a parent. You may do a lot to support your child as well. It’s best to start taking action as soon as possible to help your child deal with their symptoms and recover control over how they see the world around them rather than making the assumption that your child will outgrow their anxiety.

Children’s Anxiety Symptoms Compared To Teens

In kids and teens, anxiety symptoms can vary greatly and can go undetected. Children who suffer from anxiety disorders often exhibit irritability, anxiousness, excessive worrying, shyness, sleep difficulty, and/or physical symptoms, including headaches or gastrointestinal problems.

Children are highly impacted by what is going on in the world. They might experience exhaustion, a sense of social isolation, fear, or emotions of shame. Children who struggle with anxiety may find it challenging to socialize or make friends.

Among the most typical signs in kids are:

  • difficulties focusing
  • issues with dreams or sleep
  • exhibiting tantrums or rage problems
  • being anxious or restless
  • frequent crying sessions
  • frequently lamenting their health

The majority of teens’ worries are related to how they feel about themselves. These could include things like academic achievement and pressure to do well in school, how people view them, and worries about their bodies in relation to physical development. Teenage anxiety is sometimes difficult to detect since they tend to hide their emotions. Some of the warning signals include:

  • persistent anxieties or phobias concerning everyday parts of their existence
  • loss of interest in friends or social activities
  • irritability or attacking others harshly
  • Having trouble in school or suddenly performing poorly
  • refusing to attend school
  • issues with sleep
  • addiction to drugs
  • always looking for assurance

Anxiety can have a negative impact on your child or teen’s thoughts, emotions, and physical health, regardless of the precise symptoms they experience. This can therefore hamper their capacity to perform socially and intellectually. Recognizing the root reasons for their anxiety symptoms is the first step in helping them deal with the issue.

Causes Of Children’s Anxiety

There are numerous causes for children to experience anxiety. The most likely cause of anxiety disorders is a confluence of biological and environmental variables. Girls are more likely than males to experience anxiety, and it often runs in families.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder, and other particular phobias are all included in the category of anxiety disorders. Some kids experience anxiety about being away from home, including separation anxiety.

Multiple anxiety disorders could be present at once in kids and teenagers. Separation anxiety, social anxiety, and generalized anxiety are the three types of anxiety that affect kids the most frequently.

Stressful situations, such as sudden changes in their lives, challenges in school, having additional responsibilities beyond their level of maturity, stress from family situations, or traumatic experiences, such as being bullied or experiencing other forms of abuse, frequently cause the onset of an anxiety disorder.

Children who have anxious parents or parents who are too protective of their children may likewise experience anxiety. Research done in 2021 showed how important parental support was for adolescent mental health. You may support your child’s well-being and reduce their stress and anxiety by encouraging them to develop coping mechanisms, including acceptance, distraction, and a positive outlook.

Social Media’s Impact On Children’s Anxiety

Teenagers and adolescents, in particular, spend numerous hours on their smartphones interacting with their Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter accounts, as well as texting and messaging friends. Social media notifications they receive during the day may have an impact on how they feel and think about themselves. This can be a fun and rewarding experience in some ways, but it can also increase anxiety, feelings of loneliness, and melancholy in other ways.

Social media can support friendships and family connections for children and teenagers, but it can also encourage bullying and have a bad impact on self-esteem and self-image.

A 2019 study of more than 6,500 12 to 15-year-olds in the U.S. found that those who used social media more than three hours per day had a higher chance of developing mental health issues. Teens can struggle with increased peer pressure and social comparison, according to a Facebook internal study published in 2021. Instagram was named as one source that could exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues.

The first advice for easing your child’s anxiety: React appropriately to their fear

Although it may seem obvious, it’s critical for parents who are dealing with anxious children to maintain as much composure and optimism as they can. Your response to your child’s ideas and actions can have a big impact on how well-adjusted they are.

Discuss Your Child’s Anxieties With Them

Ask your child to talk about their sentiments regarding their anxieties to start a conversation. It is neither encouraging nor validating to just tell a child not to worry or to stop thinking about their difficulties. It’s preferable to reassure your child that feeling terrified is normal and to underline that you will be there for them at every turn.

Ask your child to express their feelings through a tale if they have trouble verbally expressing themselves. Your youngster might feel more at ease and be better able to express their sensations and emotions by moving outside of themselves.

Demonstrate Concern And Comprehension

In order to identify practical solutions, working collaboratively while expressing support and compassion can be a potent technique. According to research, mother empathy significantly contributes to reducing children’s discomfort.

Let your child know that experiencing anxiety is normal and that you are available to assist them in identifying the causes of their anxiety as well as coping mechanisms. By working together, you and your child can develop a bond and help your child learn to manage their own anxiety.

Be Encouraging But Not Domineering

The goal is to support your child in managing their anxiety while avoiding becoming overly protective in an effort to get rid of it. You’re already giving a lot of help by paying close attention and demonstrating empathy.

You can also discuss various approaches to dealing with certain circumstances. Think of suitable solutions if, for instance, your child experiences separation anxiety and is afraid about returning home from a friend’s house. For instance, your youngster could ask the friend’s mother what time you’ll be picking them up or ask the mother to phone you to find out. By implementing techniques like these, you can soothe your youngster and lessen their worry.

Tip 1: Improve Your Child’s Coping Abilities

Instead of trying to keep your child’s anxiety triggers at bay, you may assist them in learning healthy coping mechanisms. Giving your child regular praise will help them feel more capable and self-assured. Establish manageable, achievable modest goals. You might add, “I’m so pleased of the way you handled the situation and worked through your nervousness,” each time a goal is attained.

Praise your youngster for their effort if they show any sign of resiliency or confront their anxieties. Reassure your youngster that a setback is not a failure but rather a learning opportunity that will aid them in overcoming future challenges. Discuss with them what they could do differently the next time to achieve greater results. As they exert authority, they will feel more empowered.

Tip 2: Set A Good Example For Your Kids

Because they look up to you, your child needs your help learning how to handle stress and worry. A good example is how you communicate your anger and displeasure. When dealing with issues and trying circumstances, try to maintain as much patience and calmness as you can. Even a tough teenager’s values and behavior can be greatly influenced by the way you speak and the topics you discuss.

Parents who practice self-care by getting enough rest, working out frequently, and eating a balanced diet can inspire their kids to follow suit. Your kids may become more self-aware if you engage in relaxation practices like yoga, meditation, or other forms of breathing. However, refrain from criticizing your own body since this might result in body shaming and a negative self-image.

Children can learn important things from you if you live a healthy lifestyle yourself. We all make mistakes, and kids should see that even if their parents are imperfect, they can still triumph over challenges. This can assist in removing pointless pressures that could aggravate your child’s anxiousness.

Tip 3: Teach Your Youngster Relaxing Skills

Invite your youngster to practice some deep breathing or meditation with you. By doing so, you will be able to recognize how they are experiencing and offer proactive relaxing techniques that you may both attempt. Children’s breathing typically gets shallow when they are nervous. Try having your youngster place one hand on their chest and the other on their tummy while engaging in deep belly breathing. Their bellies ought to swell when they inhale and contract when they exhale.

Focusing on breathing and paying attention to the here and now are the two components of mindful breathing. Ask your kid to close their eyes and take slow, even breaths in and out. They might look for tight spots on their body when they breathe. They can then picture a warm, cozy feeling that will take the edge off of the discomfort in these locations.

Explore several forms of yoga, meditation, guided imagery, and other relaxation methods with older kids and teenagers.

It’s a terrific skill to put into daily practice turning off social media and mobile devices and going into one’s “happy place.” Your teen can recall a particular experience or memory that makes them feel secure, at ease, and content. Perhaps this is connected to relaxing on the beach, visiting a tranquil destination, or being in the middle of nature. The best way to access this relaxed state is through the imagination of lovely visuals or relaxing sounds.

Tip 4: Encourage Good Sleeping Habits

Since anxious kids frequently have problems falling asleep, creating a dependable and soothing sleep schedule is crucial. Establish a regular sleep pattern, limit exercise and light exposure in the hours before bed, and abstain from caffeine.

When it’s time for bed, make sure your youngster feels secure and at ease with few distractions to aid in sleep. Their bedroom ought to be comfortable, serene, and cool. At least an hour before bedtime, screen use on computers, phones, TVs, or video games should be minimized. This is the perfect time to read to your child or play soothing music for them. A young child could feel safer if there is a nightlight on or if they have a plush animal or soft blanket to cuddle.

Tip 5: Promote Responsible Social Media Usage

Talking to kids about the benefits and drawbacks of social media is an excellent place to start, especially in light of the fact that studies have shown both positive and negative effects.

There are more constructive actions you can do rather than merely attempting to persuade your child to put their phone away, which could only increase their anxiety:

  • Limiting your own screen time and social media use will help you set a good example for your youngster.
  • Instead of focusing on how many “likes” their social media posts receive, encourage your child to engage in more creative activities, interact with friends in person, and socialize more. Children will discover alternative methods to engage themselves if early screen exposure is avoided.
  • Set up a specific period of time during which no one in the family is using their phones or laptops. This can be done during the weekend when you’re busy with family activities or as a brief everyday task.
  • Remind teenagers, in particular, that social media photographs are frequently edited digitally and do not accurately depict reality. In a similar vein, posts about gatherings or occasions to which they were not invited frequently exaggerate how much fun was had.
  • Encourage your child to break off contact with people who criticize them online and to use caution when posting remarks about other people. Teenagers, in particular, are prone to being impulsive and unaware of the potential harm or inappropriateness of the content they share.
  • If social media is affecting your child’s schooling, sleep, or participation in extracurricular activities, limit their screen time.

Additional Advice For Assisting A Teenager

Many of the methods described above can be useful for treating anxiety in both kids and teenagers. However, since teenagers and young adults frequently have some awareness about anxiety and anxiety disorders, there are some extra techniques that may be helpful.

Discourse About Anxiousness With Your Teen

Reassure your teen that, in some situations, worry can act as a protective feeling. Anxiety keeps us safe by alerting us to potential threats. Sometimes we get that queasy feeling in our stomachs that could be a sign of a hazard. Feeling nervous can be beneficial if it serves as a reminder to pay attention to these danger flags and steer clear of dangerous situations. By discussing with your kid how they can make a certain scenario better in the future, you can also help them feel less afraid about their worry.

Continually communicate with your teen. Effective communication with teenagers can be challenging and occasionally uncomfortable. As they mature and become more autonomous, teenagers won’t always confide in their parents. A helpful communication style will increase trust and make others feel more at ease when they express their emotions.

It’s critical to have a relationship of open communication with teenagers and ask them about their days. Even if they don’t go into great detail, they’ll sense your sincere interest and concern for them. A few uplifting words can make a big difference. Express your pride in your teen and the advancements they are making. If they show signs of fear or anxiety around a certain circumstance, this is a time to start a deeper discussion. Saying something such as “I know this is a difficult circumstance” or “that seems extremely hurtful,” to validate their feelings

Make use of your listening abilities. Teenagers turn to their parents for reassuring relationships and outlets for their emotions. You can lessen their anxiety symptoms by paying close attention while validating their feelings without passing judgment or offering constructive criticism. This can be achieved by giving your teen your whole attention, maintaining eye contact to demonstrate your interest in what they have to say, and occasionally nodding to indicate that you are actually paying attention. Avoid interjecting when your teen is speaking to ensure that they feel free to express themselves fully.

Prepare yourself for challenging situations. Whether the difficulties your kid is experiencing are connected to school, interpersonal relationships, or general life concerns, talk about the rational and irrational reactions to them. Recognize that some situations may cause worry, but put them in the correct perspective to prevent these sensations from becoming exaggerated and leading to additional anxiety. Teenagers may purposely or unintentionally exaggerate their hurt or fear, and if they feel like you, as a parent, don’t understand, they may also get argumentative.

When discussing how they handled a situation, provide some possible alternatives that might have worked better. You can assist your kid in reframing their unreasonable views, for instance, if they responded to receiving a bad score on a test by describing themselves as stupid or believing they will never graduate. By stressing that there will only be one test and that they can get better grades by studying more or working with a tutor, you can assist them in approaching the issue more realistically.

Increase Your Teen’s Sense Of Self

Instead of focusing on your teen’s shortcomings, play up their positives. You might place more emphasis on their strengths rather than just their anxiety. Simply praising your kid for their attention, generosity, or thoughtfulness toward others can go a long way. Your teen might also possess exceptional intellectual or moral qualities that set them apart from other people. Encourage them to embrace their individuality rather than feeling like they don’t belong.

Your teen may be able to realize their capacity for independent problem-solving with the support of resilience and self-confidence building. You may do more than just give them praise if they perform well on a test or academic task. You can also remind them of how much time they spent studying and getting ready. This will demonstrate to them the importance of making an effort to achieve rather than continuously worrying about the result.

You can utilize this to keep your kid motivated if they have a special skill or interest, like music, art, or sports. Their confidence will increase if you express your pride in them and recognize the benefits of their hard work. Any skill that is mastered will boost self-confidence and take their focus off of their nervousness. Keep in mind that the objective is to give their best effort in order to succeed in accordance with their ability, not to aim to be flawless.

Be conscious of the standards you establish. High expectations and the pressure to succeed can frequently make teenagers feel overwhelmed. Setting realistic goals might help kids progress academically while reducing their worries about grades and test results.

Display the importance of assisting others. Participating in good endeavors that benefit others can increase a teen’s self-esteem and serve as a fruitful, beneficial diversion from their anxieties. Encourage them to explore community service opportunities that support the causes they care about. Getting involved in a group or club with other teenagers who share your interests can help you become more socially adept and give you a sense of community.

How To Assist A Young Person Having A Panic Attack

Both for children experiencing them and for parents witnessing them, panic episodes can be exceedingly scary. Although it can begin throughout childhood as well, the onset frequently happens during puberty. The duration of these episodes can range from 10 to 15 minutes, and they can cause a number of symptoms, including a rapid heartbeat, perspiration, chest pain, dizziness, and a feeling of choking. Your child can learn more about panic attacks from you, and you can reassure them that while the physical symptoms may be frightening, they are not dangerous or life-threatening.

While your child or teen is experiencing a panic attack, you can still help them. A crucial element is having a consoling presence and demonstrating empathy. Remind them that the panic episode will pass shortly and try to divert their attention to other enjoyable activities. Exercise, playing video games, watching TV, practicing breathing exercises, and other enjoyable activities can all be beneficial.

In an effort to prevent experiencing a panic attack, children may try to postpone going to school or leaving the house. To make sure that the dread of a panic attack does not interfere with your child’s normal growth, you should encourage them to carry on with their daily routines related to school and social activities.

When To Need Expert Assistance

It might be necessary to seek out more assistance from a qualified counselor or therapist if you do not notice a significant change in your child’s or teen’s anxiety.

The most frequently advised therapy for addressing anxiety in children and adolescents is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In order to change your child’s dysfunctional behaviors and emotions, CBT works by altering the way they think. Finding the right therapist for your child will help the treatment go more smoothly.

Parents may be included in CBT even though therapy can be beneficial when used with children alone. When CBT with younger children concentrates on the behavioral aspects of anxiety, it is frequently the most helpful. Children and teenagers can rely on the coping techniques they learn in treatment as they transition into adulthood.

Children with anxiety can also be treated with medication. The most frequently prescribed class of antidepressants for this use is serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). For adolescents and teenagers with more severe kinds of anxiety that impair daily functioning, anti-anxiety drugs may also be utilized.

Even when medication is required, CBT and the development of coping mechanisms are frequently advised for children and teenagers in order to provide a long-term solution to their anxiety difficulties.

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