By Erin Magee, MSW, LMSW, Child and Adolescent Therapist
Worrying about things is normal and even helpful at times. It allows children to be safe and cautious while experiencing new things. However, when a child worries excessively, avoids fun activities, or refuses to go to school because they are fearful, anxiety can become a major problem in their lives.
Anxiety in children can show itself in many forms, which include physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. Some symptoms or signs of anxiety in children include the following:
- Frequently tensing muscles
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Only using the bathroom at home or excessively using the bathroom
- Complaining of headaches or stomachaches that do not have a medical cause
- Shaking or sweating in new situations or when they’re the center of attention
- Worried or upset about making a mistake
- Extreme nervousness about taking tests
- Panic attacks (spike in anxiety with physical symptoms such as increased heartrate, trouble breathing, hyperventilating, sweating, feeling hot or cold, shaking, etc)
- Anger or tantrums without any clear reason, or in excess of the situation
- Fears of dogs, the dark, storms, etc.
- Oversensitivity or overreactions to things
- Asking “what if” questions a lot. (For example, “What if a tornado comes?” “What if you are in a car accident?”)
- Refusing to go to school
- Frequent trips to the office or school nurse
- Staying inside or alone at lunch and/or recess
- Avoiding social situations with peers, such as, birthday parties, field trips, extracurricular activities, etc.
- Saying “I can’t do it!” without a real reason
- Regularly seeking approval or reassurance from parents, teachers, or friends
No one symptom alone signifies anxiety, and it is common and normal for a child to experience temporary anxiety, such as a child having trouble sleeping after watching a scary movie. However, when the anxiety becomes severe and/or consistent, or when it interferes with daily activities, such as going to school, sleeping, or hanging out with friends, your child may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
Seeking support from a qualified child therapist can help both you and your child in many ways. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) has been shown to be very effective in treating anxiety disorders in children and adolescents. CBT for children who suffer from anxiety usually consists of education about anxiety and how to recognize when its occurring, learning relaxation and other coping skills to manage it, facing fears gradually to resume normal functioning, and parent training in how to best respond to and support your anxious child without making the anxiety worse.
If you think your child may be suffering from anxiety, we have several child and adolescent therapists who are taking new clients, and can help you determine whether individual or group therapy would be beneficial for your child. If you’re unsure, it never hurts to come in for one session to have a professional evaluate your child to see if he or she meets the criteria for an anxiety disorder, and to learn what treatment would look like for your child should you choose to pursue it.