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Counseling for Children with Anxiety

Anxiety and depression are treatable, but the National Institute of Mental Health states that 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60 percent of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment.

child with anxiety

Anxiety is a normal part of childhood and every child goes through phases. A phase is temporary and usually harmless. But children who suffer from an anxiety disorder experience fear, nervousness, and shyness, and they start to avoid places and activities. Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Anxiety disorders often co-occur with depression as well as eating disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), selective mutism, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (NIMH).

With treatment and support, your child can learn how to successfully manage the symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

How Do I Know If My Child Is Dealing with Anxiety?

Anxiety symptoms in children include physical signs, emotional signs, as well as behavioral signs, as described by Understood.org:

Physical Signs Include:

Frequent complaints of headaches or stomachaches without medical reason for them; refusal to eat snacks at lunch or daycare; not using restrooms unless they are home; trouble falling or staying asleep; muscle tension; shaking or sweating in intimidating situations; or becoming restless, fidgety, hyperactive, or distracted (even though he/she doesn’t necessarily have ADHD).

Emotional Signs Include:

Crying often; extreme sensitivity; becoming grouchy or angry without clear reason; afraid of making even minor mistakes; test anxiety; panic attacks or fear of having panic attacks; phobias (bees, dogs, etc.) and exaggerated fears (about things like natural disasters, etc.); has obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors (finger tapping, hand washing, etc.); is afraid people will find out about his/her learning and attention issues; worries about things that are far in the future; is worried or afraid during drop-offs (at daycare, school, friends or relatives’ homes, etc.); has frequent nightmares about losing a parent or loved one; gets distracted from playing by his worries and fears; is starting to have meltdowns or tantrums.

Behavioral Signs Include:

Asks “what if” constantly; avoids participating during circle time or other class activities; remains silent or preoccupies when expected to work with others; school refusal; stays inside, alone, at lunch or recess; refuses to speak to peers or strangers in stores, restaurants, etc.; avoids social situations with peers after school or on weekends; becomes emotional or angry when separating from parents or loved ones; constantly seeks approval from parents, teachers, and friends; says “I can’t do it” without a real reason.

How Can Counseling Help?

Several scientifically proven and effective treatment options are available for children with anxiety disorders. Counseling using Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches skills and techniques to your child that he/she can use to reduce anxiety. Your child will learn to identify and replace negative thinking patterns with positive ones. They will also learn to separate realistic from unrealistic thoughts and will “practice” what is learned in therapy outside of the therapist office. Using parent meetings, a therapist can work with you to ensure progress is made at home and in school, and he or she can give advice on how the entire family can best manage your child’s symptoms.

Interventions

There are a variety of interventions to use to assist your child in managing their anxiety. Here are a few from various sources to try in your own home:

Reframing

The anxious thought cycle is overwhelming because it causes feelings of helplessness. When anxiety spikes, children get caught in a cycle of “what if” and “I can’t.” Anxious kids tend to engaged in a variety of thinking distortions such as black and white thinking and overgeneralizing. Working on reframing assists a child in taking power over anxious thoughts. It works like this:

  1. Name a worry floating around in your brain right now.
  2. What is the worry telling you?
  3. Let’s break it down and see if that worry is 100% right.
  4. How can we take that worry thought and change it to a positive thought?

For example, your child shares a fear that the kids in their class don’t like them. Why do they think this? Because a boy in class laughed when they didn’t know the answer, and now they are scared that their classmates think they are dumb. Help them break down the reality of their situation: “I answer questions in class every day. A friend always sits with me at lunch. I play with my friends at recess.” Now reframe the situation: “It hurt my feelings when the boy laughed, but I have other good friends in my class.”

Help Them Build a Coping Kit

One thing that helps anxious kids is having a concrete list of strategies to use in a moment of anxiety. While some can memorize a list of strategies, others may need to write them down. Try these:

  • Deep breathing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Stress ball
  • Write it out
  • Talk back to worries and reframe thoughts
  • Get help from an adult
 

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