Fight Flight Freeze A Guide To Anxiety For Kids
For even more information and tools, visit MAP for Children. My Anxiety Plan is an anxiety management program designed to provide adults struggling with anxiety with practical strategies and tools to manage anxiety. MAP includes 6 easy to navigate units with 45 lessons.
Does My Child Have An Anxiety Disorder?
As discussed throughout this website, anxiety is useful in certain situations, some of the time. But how do you, the parent or caregiver, know when the signs of anxiety you are seeing in your child might be significant enough to qualify for an anxiety disorder? An appointment with your family physician or a trained mental health professional is a good first step. However, in preparation for that visit, or to decide whether a visit is needed, it can help to understand what professionals look for in diagnosing an anxiety disorder.
To begin with, there are eleven different types of anxiety disorders, and each anxiety disorder has a list of commonly occurring symptoms clustered into four areas:
- Physical responses
- Attending school
How Can I Know If My Child Is Anxious In School
School performance is often a good barometer of childrens mental health. Anxiety can rob children of the ability to pay attention in school, and class engagement and participation may suffer as well as grades. So may the power to concentrate on homework or other tasks, or even to remember to do them. Teachers are usually good observers of childrens patterns and are quick to spot changes in concentration, participation, and performance.
Periodic conversations with teachers can elicit revealing information about childrens behavior that may otherwise be invisible to parents. In addition, parents who put everything else aside for a few minutes every day to have regular conversations with their children about whatever is on their mind and going on in their life are in a privileged position to hear directly when concerns arise. That might be the only way they learn about such experiences as bullying, which often escape notice by teachers and administrators but are a strong disincentive for going to school.
How Are Anxiety Disorders Treated
Most often, anxiety disorders are treated with cognitive behavioral therapy . This is a type of talk therapy that helps families, kids, and teens learn to manage worry, fear, and anxiety.
CBT teaches kids that what they think and do affects how they feel. In CBT, kids learn that when they avoid what they fear, the fear stays strong. They learn that when they face a fear, the fear gets weak and goes away.
- Parents learn how to best respond when a child is anxious. They learn how to help kids face fears.
- Kids learn coping skills so they can face fear and worry less.
The therapist helps kids practice, and gives support and praise as they try. Over time, kids learn to face fears and feel better. They learn to get used to situations they’re afraid of. They feel proud of what they’ve learned. And without so many worries, they can focus on other things like school, activities, and fun. Sometimes, medicines are also used to help treat anxiety.
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Be Aware Of Your Parenting Style
Some parenting styles can actually make your child’s anxiety worse, so its important to take a look at your parenting style and your interactions with your child. Of the four parenting styles identified by psychologist Diana Baumrind, both and permissive parenting are linked with higher rates of depression and anxiety among children.
Expecting perfection and controlling your child’s every move is a surefire way to trigger anxietyin yourself and in your child. It can cause your child to feel constantly pressured to succeed, which can leave them paralyzed with fear and feelings of self-doubt.
However, the boundary-free parenting approach is hardly the answer. Permissive parenting leaves so much to the child’s own choice that it can produce anxiety, as well.
Parents who allow their child to deal with life’s day-to-day troubles themselves help them develop more resiliency and healthy coping strategies.
Types Of Anxiety Disorders In Children
: Excessive worrying that something bad will happen if the child is not with their parents, caregiver, or anyone to whom they are attached. The child may be reluctant or refuse to stay at a relative or friends house, sleep alone or go to school. Many children experience separation anxiety between 18 months and three years old when it is normal to feel some anxiety when a parent leaves the room or goes out of sight. Usually, children can be distracted from these feelings. However, separation anxiety may surface or resurface when the child is older and especially between ages 7 and 9.
: Chronic anxiety and excessive worry about everything and everyday life. A child with GAD worries about the meaning of a canceled play date or a delayed response to a text. Children with GAD fret about bad things happening to people they love or that no one will come to the birthday party they didnt want in the first place. The worry is overblown in relation to the events that sparked the worry. GAD is exhausting as children worry chronically and constantly and cant control these thoughts. In addition, children with GAD often dont trust their instincts and seek constant approval or reassurance from others.
Panic Disorder: Imagine being ten years old and suddenly, without warning, experiencing a fear so intense that you feel like youre going to pass out. Your heart is pounding. You are terrified and feel out of control. You may experience shortness of breath and chest pain. Thats a .
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Teach Your Child To Be A Thought Detective
Remember, worry is the brains way of protecting us from danger. To make sure were really paying attention, the mind often exaggerates the object of the worry . You may have heard that teaching your children to think more positively could calm their worries. But the best remedy for distorted thinking is not positive thinking its accurate thinking. Try a method we call the 3Cs:
- Catch your thoughts: Imagine every thought you have floats above your head in a bubble . Now, catch one of the worried thoughts like No one at school likes me.
- Collect evidence: Next, collect evidence to support or negate this thought. Teach your child not to make judgments about what to worry about based only on feelings. Feelings are not facts.
- Challenge your thoughts: The best way to do this is to teach your children to have a debate within themselves.
Consider Therapy For Your Child
Secondly, a great option for helping a young child with social anxiety is to get them involved in therapy. Not only do therapists have a comprehensive understanding of social anxiety and how it occurs, but they can also provide your child with the tools necessary to overcome their emotional distress during any social interaction.
At Childrens Bureau, mental health services are provided to children ages 0-21. With a number of different mental health tools and resources, finding the support for your child has never been more accessible. Remember, there is nothing wrong with giving your child the extra support they need as they continue to grow and develop. In fact, the extra support of a mental health professional will allow them to better understand themselves and their feelings as they move into adolescence and adulthood.
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What Are Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders are a common type of psychiatric disorder, characterized by anxiety or fear that does not go away over time.
Feelings of fear or distress are common in children, but when they become persistent or extreme, a child may be suffering from anxiety. About 4.4 million children aged 3 to 17 years have been diagnosed with anxiety.
Types of anxiety in children can include:
- : Fear of being separated from their parents
- Phobias: Extreme fear focused on a specific thing or situation, such as insects, animals, or going to the doctor
- Social anxiety: Fear of school and other places where people are present
- General anxiety: Worry about the future and about bad things happening
- Panic disorder: Repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, and intense fear accompanied by symptoms such as heart pounding, having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty
Treatment For Anxiety And Depression
The first step to treatment is to talk with a healthcare provider, such as your childs primary care provider or a mental health specialist, about getting an evaluation. Some of the signs and symptoms of anxiety or depression in children could be caused by other conditions, such as trauma. A mental health professional can develop a therapy plan that works best for the child and family. Behavior therapy includes child therapy, family therapy, or a combination of both. For very young children, involving parents in treatment is key the school can also be included in the treatment plan. Consultation with a healthcare provider can help determine if medication should be part of the treatment.
If you need help finding treatment, visit MentalHealth.govexternal icon.
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How Serious Can It Be
Long-term anxiety can severely interfere with a child’s personal development, family life and schooling.
Anxiety disorders that start in childhood often persist into the teenage years and early adulthood. Teenagers with an anxiety disorder are more likely to develop clinical depression, misuse drugs and feel suicidal.
This is why you should get help as soon as you realise it’s a problem.
Distinguish Between Real Threats And False Alarms
Talk to your child about how anxiety is meant to keep them safe. For instance, if they were being chased by a lion, their brain would signal to their body that they’re in danger. They would notice changes in their body like sweaty palms and an increased heart rate. They would get an immediate rush of energy as they prepare to bolt from the lion .
Then tell them there are also times when their brain triggers a false alarm. These false alarms can cause them to feel intense fear over situations that are far from life-or-death. False alarms can include situations like trying out for the basketball team, speaking in front of a lot of people, or preparing for a big test.
When they’re anxious, ask, Is your brain giving you a real alarm right now or a false alarm? Then, help them decide what action to take.
Explain that if its a real threat, they should listen to those alarm bells and take action to keep themselves safe. But if its a false alarm, its a good idea to face their fears.
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Stop Reassuring Your Child
Your child worries. You know there is nothing to worry about, so you say, Trust me. Theres nothing to worry about. Done and done, right? We all wish it were that simple. Why does your reassurance fall on deaf ears? Its actually not the ears causing the issue. Your anxious child desperately wants to listen to you, but the brain wont let it happen. During periods of anxiety, there is a rapid dump of chemicals and mental transitions executed in your body for survival. One by-product is that the prefrontal cortex or more logical part of the brain gets put on hold while the more automated emotional brain takes over. In other words, it is really hard for your child to think clearly, use logic or even remember how to complete basic tasks. What should you do instead of trying to rationalize the worry away? Try something I call the FEEL method:
- Freeze: pause and take some deep breaths with your child. Deep breathing can help reverse the nervous system response.
- Empathize: anxiety is scary. Your child wants to know that you get it.
- Evaluate: once your child is calm, its time to figure out possible solutions.
- Let Go: Let go of your guilt you are an amazing parent giving your child the tools to manage their worry.
Functional Gifts For Children With Anxiety
I tend to put practical, but still fun, gifts in my kids stockings at Christmas, and add in some functional gifts at birthdays too. These fun things will help soothe your kiddos anxiety, and be cool to use, too.
I received Tangle Toys to try out with my kids and share with you. I was compensated for my time, but all opinions are mine. In fact, weve owned several Tangle toys throughout the years and were eager to have a few more.
Litecup My daughters anxiety hits the roof around bedtime. We have a nightlight in the room, and usually my husband sits in there on the recliner catching up on email and reading until she falls asleep. But, if she wakes in the middle of the nightforget it. She gets herself all worked up because everyones asleep and she wanders in the dark fearing that shes been left alone. The Litecup has saved many nocturnal meltdowns. She has water which is occasionally all she needs to fall back asleep and she has a nightlight that she can take with her into my room down the dark hallway. She absolutely loves it, and we plan to buy one for each of the kids.
Sound Machine We have had numerous sound machines and white noise makers in our bedrooms, and the kids rooms, forever. And weve gone through a few different brands until we bought a Marpac DOHM-DS for each bedroom. Theyve lasted through two moves, and lots of drops. Having the same sound whooshing in the background of my childrens rooms really helps soothe them at night.
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Where Should I Go For Help
You can talk to your GP on your own or with your child, or your child might be able to have an appointment without you. The doctor should listen to your concerns and offer some advice about what to do next.
Your child may be referred to the local child and adolescent mental health service , where the workers are trained to help young people with a wide range of problems. Professionals who work in CAMHS services include psychologists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists. They should offer help and support to parents and carers as well as the child.
More about CAMHS from Young Minds
Causes Of Childhood Anxiety Disorder
According to the National Institutes of Mental Health , both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Research shows that biology, biochemistry, life situations, and learned behaviors all play a role. Many anxious kids have anxious family members, says Alvord. Children model behaviors on what they see, she adds.
And then theres the genetic component. Anxiety disorders do run in families but a family history doesnt mean a child is destined to develop a disorder. Parental behavior can exacerbate and worsen childrens problem but thats not the same as saying that parents are the cause of the child having the problem in the first place, Lebowitz says.
Much depends on the childs innate sensitivity, family dynamics, and life experiences. Some children have a natural predisposition or vulnerability to anxiety or have difficulty regulating their feelings of anxiety and fear. And thats not because their parents did this or didnt do that, stresses Lebowitz, That said, parents can and should play an important role in helping children learn to cope better with their anxiety.
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Treatment For Childhood Anxiety Disorders
If you suspect your child has a disorder, the first step is to see a trained therapist who will take a full history, talk with and ask questions of the parents, family members, and the child about the fears and behavior. The therapist can diagnosis the childs specific anxiety disorder based on the information collected through these interviews.
Pros Of Using Cbd For Child Anxiety
The World Health Organization acknowledges CBD, in general, to be low in toxicity.
The agency also recognizes that the compound does not appear to exhibit the same effects found in delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol , sometimes only referred to as tetrahydrocannabinol .
Based on the findings of several open-label and controlled trials evaluating CBDs therapeutic effects, the WHO finds CBD to be well tolerated by humans and has a good safety profile.
However, despite CBD being considered generally safe, scientists need to conduct further studies to determine the long-term effects of the compound.
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What Should You Do If Coping Skills Arent Helping Your Child
There are many reasons why coping skills may not help your child. Some skills work for some children but not for others. And some skills may work in certain situations but not in others.
Miranda-Smith says she often asks students what theyve tried before making any suggestions. And she suggests parents do the same in order to rule out things like the skill not being done correctly or in the right situation.
Thats something parents and caregivers can discuss with their children, she said. They can ask them, Whats working and what isnt working? And then try to figure out why.
When discussing this with your child, Anderson recommends you ask yourself:
Is my child doing the coping skill appropriately?: Take a step back, and see if your child understands how to do the skill. Maybe, try practicing it with them multiple times, so they feel more comfortable.
Is the skill being used in the right situations?: Talk about different scenarios in which your child could use the skill. For example, suggest they try a breathing exercise before taking a test but try playing I spy when riding the school bus.
If your child remains anxious or becomes more anxious, there may be something else going on. Children with an anxiety disorder, OCD , or ADHD often have higher fear levels and more trouble managing their anxiety.
Talk to your pediatrician or a mental health professional about evaluating your child. These providers can diagnose conditions that may need additional treatment.