We often begin our blog posts with a quip or a funny story, but nothing amusing comes to mind when discussing childhood anxiety disorders and anxiety management techniques. As our kids grow, we wonder if a behavior is something serious, or is it ” kids will be kids’ ” From day one, we watch for the tell-tale signs of positive health; milestones of when they can turn over, talk, walk, make friends, and navigate the school day without mom or dad nearby. At every step, we hope we’re not missing some sign. Is a request for a glass of water or to check for monsters under the bed a symptom of something larger or just the usual, often maddening, bedtime ritual?
What Are Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders can cause extreme fear, worry, and changes in a child’s behavior, sleep, eating, or mood. Several things play a role in causing the overactive “fight or flight” that happens with anxiety disorders. Often, life situations such as illness, death of a loved one, financial insecurity at home, or any major loss can be stressful and difficult to cope with. Genetics and brain chemistry may sometimes come into play. Genes help direct the way brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, work. If specific brain chemicals are in short supply or not working well, anxiety can occur. And let’s not forget our current, “unique,” situation. If growing up during a global pandemic can’t cause anxiety, we don’t know what can.
Signs and Symptoms
Some anxious children keep their worries to themselves and, thus, the symptoms can be missed. However, in general, the indicators we should be aware of are pretty recognizable.
- Being very afraid when away from parents (separation anxiety)
- Having extreme fear about a specific thing or situation, such as dogs, insects, or going to the doctor (phobias)
- Being very afraid of school and other places where there are people (social anxiety)
- Being very worried about the future and about bad things happening (general anxiety)
- Having repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear that come with symptoms like heart pounding, having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty (panic disorder)
- Trouble sleeping
- Physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, or stomachaches
- Irritability and anger
How Are Anxiety Disorders Diagnosed?
True anxiety disorders are diagnosed by trained therapists. Drawing on their training and experience, they talk with you and your child, ask specifically designed questions, and listen carefully. They’ll determine how and when the child’s anxiety and fears happen most. That helps them diagnose the specific anxiety disorder the child has. They’ll recommend that a child or teen with symptoms of anxiety should also have regular health checkups. This helps make sure no other health problem is causing the symptoms.
Anxiety Management Techniques
Hold the phone, Mr. Toad! Are we trying to tell you that if your kid asks you to check for monsters under the bed, is afraid of bee-stings, or is grouchy in the morning it means that they have an anxiety disorder? Of course not! Notice that the CDC’s list uses terms like “very afraid,” “extreme fear,” and “very worried.” It’s important to talk to your child about their feelings and gauge their level of anxiety or worries for yourself. Naturally, we recommend contacting your family health professional with any concerns you may have.
The good news is that there is a whole area of clinical research dedicated to anxiety management techniques for kids. Psychology Today lists several strategies:
- Breathing with them. One way to help your child control anxiety is to encourage slow, deep breathing. There are wonderful apps and YouTube videos that can show how to do deep, “diaphragmatic” breathing.
- Getting rid of ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) like “I’m a loser” or “nothing ever goes my way.” By encouraging helpful and positive thoughts, for example, “Mistakes are OK!,” or “If I keep practicing, I’ll get better,” or “I can learn and do better the next time,” the child’s anxiety levels will be reduced.
- Calming visualizations. Help your child to imagine a relaxing place and to notice the calm feelings in their body. Or, have them imagine a container (such as a big box or a safe) to put their worries in so they are not running wild in their mind and bothering them when they need or want to be doing other things.
- Making a “things that went right today” list at the end of the school day. This helps children prone to anxiety to develop an optimistic cognitive style. This can be made into a Success Journal.
The HAPPÉ Anxiety Management Technique
EFT is backed by 20 years of clinical research and extolled by our partner, Dr Peta Stapleton, a proponent of EFT with 25 years of experience as a Clinical & Health Psychologist.
EFT involves tapping specific points on the body, primarily on the head and the face, in a particular sequence. While doing this, the child focuses on the issue that is worrying them. It utilizes some of the same “strategic points” used in acupuncture, a key component of traditional Chinese medicine. But unlike acupuncture, there are no scary needles in sight! The goal is to stimulate the amygdala, the part of the brain where emotions are given meaning and remembered, creating emotional memories. Using tapping on these strategic points stimulates the amygdala to send a calming effect during times of stress or anxiety.
Our programs will help your child to learn how to use EFT tapping to calm negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, worry, or anger. By doing this they are taking control of their emotions and calming these emotions independently. If they take to it, we also offer our HAPPÉ Life Program, a 21-day digital coaching program using cognitive technology to support the research-proven habits that make us happy!
How Can I Help My Child?
If your child is anxious and worries, or if you suspect he/she has an anxiety disorder, here are some ways you can help:
- Consult your family health professional with any major concerns you may have.
- Talk often with your child about their feelings and help them feel safe to confide their worries/stresses.
- Listen! Let them know you understand, love, and accept them. A caring relationship with you helps your child build inner strengths.
- Help your child face fears. Ask a therapist how you can help your child practice at home. Praise your child for efforts to cope with fears and worry.
- Encourage your child to take small steps forward. Don’t let your child give up or avoid what they’re afraid of. Help them take small positive steps forward.
- Help them utilize anxiety management techniques like the HAPPÉ EFT tapping program, those listed above, or those recommended by your family’s health professional.
- Be patient. It takes a while for therapy to work and for kids to feel better.
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