Does my child have anxiety?
Just like adults, children can experience anxiety in many different forms. Generally, anxiety is caused by the fight-flight response, our innate response to danger. But when a perceived threat rears its head, some children react more quickly or intensely than others.
The fact is, not all anxiety is bad. A small amount can actually be motivating (like when it pushes you to prepare for an exam or interview!) But anxiety can also become a debilitating challenge, standing in the way of living a healthy life.
As a Firstchance Registered Psychologist, Robert Kilkelly regularly works with children who have anxiety and their family members. He currently runs a Cool Kids cognitive behaviour therapy program that teaches children skills for combatting their anxiety.
Here, Robert share how parents can help identify and manage their child’s anxieties.
What types of childhood anxiety disorders exist?
There are numerous childhood anxiety disorders, which all have specific criteria to be met before a diagnosis would be considered. They include:
- Separation Anxiety Disorder
- Selective Mutism
- Specific Phobia
- Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
- Panic Disorder/Attacks (which is uncommon among children)
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive Disorder
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
What are some common signs that a child might suffer from anxiety?
Many children will experience fears and worries. But when this fear, worry or avoidance happens a lot or seems excessive, this can indicate a potential problem.
Common signs of childhood anxiety include:
- You child is distressed by having to attend school, worries about their work being perfect, feels fearful of taking tests and usually doesn’t ask for help from teachers.
- Your child feels physically unwell in unfamiliar or worrying situations; they might experience headaches or stomach aches.
- Your child often feels worried and needs lots of reassurance.
- Your child doesn’t sleep well; they might have trouble falling asleep, have nightmares or not want to sleep alone.
If a child has anxiety, will they also have anxiety as an adult?
You can help manage your child’s anxiety by being open, receptive and understanding of their emotions and feelings. Be available and attentive to their emotional cues and be prepared to have an open and positive conversation about it.
How can parents help manage their child’s anxiety?
While some children who have anxiety in childhood may go on to experience anxiety in adulthood, there is no suggestion that this would happen to all children with anxiety issues. One study found that having a secure attachment to their parents was a mitigating factor for children developing internalising disorders, such as anxiety, later in life (Jakobson, Horwood and Fergusson, 2011).
Other helpful tips:
- Encourage positive thinking: remind your child of other times when they dealt with similar challenges and things turned out okay.
- Model positive coping strategies: be open about your own emotions with your children. You could say, “I’m feeling a bit anxious about this, but I’m going to give it a go anyway”.
- Break it down: if a child finds a situation challenging, try breaking it down into smaller, more manageable “chunks”. For example, if your child fears dogs, instead of avoiding dogs altogether you could spend time watching other children play with dogs.
Spotting a childhood anxiety disorder takes time. If your child displays anxiety symptoms that are unusual for them, and the symptoms persist for weeks, talk to your GP.
For support or advice, call our team of experts on (02) 4910 3130.