Parents have been quite anxious to ask me what to do for their child or teen’s feelings of anxiety. Let me see if I can relax everyone with some information on this topic.
Anxiety is usually a normal emotional reaction to life stressors. It can also appear physically as dizziness, a rapid heartbeat, difficult breathing or shaky or sweaty hands and feet.
Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety at one time or another, ranging from a sense of unease to full-blown panic. Children can become anxious when facing an important test or project or even switching schools. Babies can experience stranger anxiety, and toddlers can have separation anxiety. Even preschool fantasies, such as fear of monsters, can cause anxiety.
Real situations on the news, such as a shooting or natural disaster, can make a school-aged child anxious. If that anxiety persists and worsens, it can detract from a child’s ability to be happy and enjoy life.
How can you tell when normal worry is developing into anxiety or what we call an anxiety disorder? Here are a few signs:
— Your child seems to worry almost daily about one thing or another;
— Your child has trouble sleeping at night;
— Your child is irritable and has trouble concentrating.
While these can be symptoms of other problems, it is worth sharing your concerns with your child’s health-care professional.
Treatment will often involve counseling and ways to teach your child coping skills and relaxation techniques. Occasionally, medication may be prescribed, but only after trying counseling.
The best way to help your child avoid becoming too anxious about something is to show you care. Be understanding, supportive and nonjudgmental, and talk openly about what may be bothering your child. Then help them find new ways to cope.
Encouraging your child to exercise, eat healthy and get adequate sleep can also be useful. It may also help to talk to your child about what you do to help relieve your own stressful moments.
Hopefully, tips like these will allow you to breathe easier if you suspect your child is becoming too anxious.
Dr. Lewis First is chief of pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.