From the Magazine: Supporting The Anxious Child

anxiety
Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

Anxiety is the leading health concern in kids these days; here’s how to help

Written by Jennifer Bishop, LMHC

Here in my private Boca practice, I see more children and teens with anxiety disorders than any other mental or behavioral health concern. (In fact, the Centers for Disease Control says 7.1 percent of children have been diagnosed with anxiety.) Children and teens are stressed on many fronts, from being challenged socially and academically to facing physical changes in their development and grappling with the demands and pressures of social media. They face the challenge of fitting in and being accepted, and have to learn to balance family dynamics. And, on top of all that, they are plagued—like their adult counterparts—with an uncertain and tumultuous society.

Getting help for children who suffer from anxiety can be tough, as anxiety can present as a constellation of negative behaviors. Adults can be quick to spot the problematic behaviors, but don’t always see the underlying anxiety that drives them. Kids don’t necessarily know how to connect the dots between a racing heart, a stomachache or feeling dizzy with anxiety. And, even if they confess to being worried or anxious, they may not know the “why” or be able to verbalize “what” is making them feel that way. Too often we bombard them with questions they simply cannot answer, which only makes their anxiety worse.

So, how do we recognize anxiety symptoms in children and teens?

The good news is that childhood anxiety is very treatable, especially with early intervention. Child-Centered Play Therapy (CCPT) and Expressive Arts Therapies are very effective for children, because play is their natural way of communicating. The therapist enters the play world, helping them understand and resolve their anxiety. Children are able to express their experiences and feelings through a natural, self-guided and self-healing process that leads to better social integration, growth and development.

By learning to spot the sneaky signs of child anxiety, identifying triggers of anxiety, increasing self-awareness and teaching effective coping skills, children and teens can be empowered to manage their anxious feelings independently.

Here’s a list of some of the behaviors and symptoms children and teens may present that could indicate an anxiety disorder:

  • Frequent stomachaches, headaches, muscle pains, etc.
  • Inappropriate anger and irritability for their age or the situation at hand
  • Needy, clingy, easily overwhelmed behavior
  • Isolation from friends and activities, like canceling plans, avoiding social hangouts, practices, sleepovers, no longer wanting to do things they used to enjoy
  • Shutting down in group settings
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Poor concentration
  • Having obsessive thoughts, like they can’t let something go
  • Refusal to go to school
  • Asking frequent or repetitive questions
  • Worry or fear about separation from parents/caregivers
  • Having high expectations for self, including school and sports
  • Unable to make decisions
  • Having difficulties during transitions, including tantrums
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom or nurse
  • Bossy or controlling behavior
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Issues with bedwetting
  • Worrying about school performance, maybe not turning in homework that was completed

This story is from the September/October 2020 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.