Family

Family, school can help kids facing anxiety

Anxiety is a normal part of growing up. Every child goes through it, but how he or she deals with it is another story. Fear or nervousness can start to take over a child’s life, and that’s when they become at risk for other issues. Treatment can help, however, as is the case with many mental health issues, too many kids are missing out on it.

What is an anxiety disorder?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive fear or anxiety that is difficult to control and negatively or substantially impacts daily functioning.

“Anxiety is frequently unavoidable and may come and go in ‘phases’,” says Dr. Paul Greblo, SSM Health psychologist. “But phases often dissipate and may not cause a child lasting disruptions such as avoiding places and activities.”

Anxiety disorders take on many forms. They can range from specific fears (called phobias) to general feelings of worry and tension. Parents are encouraged to be aware of these issues, because they typically develop in childhood and continue into adulthood.  According to a SAMHSA Behavioral Health report, lifetime phobias and generalized anxiety disorders are the most prevalent among adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18.

Anxiety disorders can be hard to predict because there are a variety of causes. Genetics, environmental factors and childhood experiences may all contribute to the risk of developing an issue.

How common are anxiety disorders?

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America believes anxiety disorders affect one in eight children.
“Intervention from professionals and the support of family members can go a long way to managing anxiety and affording kids a normal childhood,” says Dr. Greblo. “However, too few children with anxiety are being identified for what are treatable conditions”. 

Eighty percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60 percent of children with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment, according to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report.

The lack of treatment leaves kids vulnerable to other issues. They’re more likely to perform poorly in schools, miss out on important social experiences, and have problems with substance abuse.

What can parents do to help?

“First things first, don’t take your child’s anxiety disorder personally,” says Dr. Greblo. “A diagnosis does not mean you have done a poor parenting job. Instead, focus on the future and trying to build a support network.”

Here are some things to keep in mind while trying to help manage a childhood anxiety disorder.

• Pay attention to your child’s feelings.
• Stay calm when your child becomes anxious about a situation or event.
• Recognize and praise small accomplishments.
• Don’t punish mistakes or lack of progress.
• Be flexible, but try to maintain a normal routine.
• Modify expectations during stressful periods.

It’s also a good idea to talk to your child’s teacher, principal or counselor at school. They’ll likely recognize symptoms of an issue, but may not realize what they are caused by.

Parents and school officials can discuss any accommodations that may help the child in class. Having a conversation will also enable issues to be tracked. Encourage the school personnel to monitor behavior and report back, so if needed, you can relay that information to your doctor.


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