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Anxiety in Children and Adolescents

Anxiety and worries are normal and common as children develop. Separation from parents, especially at the beginning of the school year, fears of monsters or dogs, hesitation in new situations, and difficulty going to sleep alone are just some examples of worries that are frequently reported by parents.  Along with worries, children who are experiencing anxiety may report stomach aches, headaches, dizziness, trouble sleeping, or come across as irritable.

While physical complaints can go hand and hand with anxiety, parents may express concern as to how to distinguish between anxiety and when the symptoms might truly be an indicator their child is sick. If the symptoms are out of character for your child, seem unrelated to a challenging situation or stressor, or you are just not sure, it’s always better to check with the pediatrician’s office.  When the symptoms appear related to a new or uncomfortable situation or thoughts, becomes a pattern of avoidant or clingy behavior, and/or your child can’t seem to relax, your child could be having challenges with anxiety.

Most preschool and school-aged children do not quite understand what anxiety is and how it works.  Therefore, the first task is to explain to children that anxiety is normal and is our brain’s way of trying to make sure we are safe.  Sometimes our brain can be confused when trying to figure if a situation is unsafe and leads to anxiety. We can help name the anxiety, for the child, as a “worry bully” or “brain glitch.” From there, you can help your child develop strategies to relax such as deep breathing, meditation, and muscle relaxation. For children who are demonstrating fears and avoidant behavior, the best approach is usually to support the child to face their fears.  This could be helping the child take small steps such as being closer to a dog, practicing being alone in their room or rehearsing a goodbye for school.

From a parenting standpoint, what is very important is to not excessively reassure an anxious child and instead help guide him or her to figure out for themselves how to take on their worries.   You can help your child come up with a list of ways to talk back to the worries and even put them on notecards. If the child is trying to avoid school, work with your child and their school to determine if there is an explanation. While the concerns are being worked through, it is very important to continue to get the child to school and not reinforce the avoidant behavior.

When anxiety is interfering with your child’s ability to function at home or school and is not resolving, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) by a trained child therapist can help provide very specific strategies and counseling approaches that are research based and very effective.  If you have questions or concerns about your child’s anxiety, we are happy to help. Please visit our website or call us at 248-851-5437 and a staff member will be happy to discuss your concerns.