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8/26/18blog post

why is my child so anxious and what can I do about it?

It doesn’t seem right to use the word anxiety and childhood in the same sentence. Kids have few responsibilities, lots of free time, and numerous opportunities to play sports and video games, or just hang around with friends. Their most significant responsibilities are to keep their room clean and try hard in school.  Compared with life as an adult, most kids have it pretty easy.

It’s perplexing that anxiety is one of the most common forms of childhood mental illness and appears to be increasing in recent years.  About one-third of our kids will have a significant anxiety disorder during their childhood.  In 1985, 18 percent of our high school seniors reported feeling “overwhelmed,” a rate that increased to 41 percent in 2016.

As with most mental disorders, the causes are complex and uncertain. One significant factor is the increase in kids’ sense of perfectionism.  Many kids feel that others expect them to never fail, and they’ve embraced those unattainable standards as their own. Striving for something that will never be achieved keeps these youngsters in a continuous state of apprehension about failure.

A second factor is our kids’ lack of confidence in themselves.  Raised by overprotective and controlling parents, these youngsters feel overly anxious about what others think and uncomfortable dealing with routine problems.  They fear failure but are ill-equipped to navigate such simple problems as dealing with a difficult teacher or resolving a problem with a friend. These kids get stuck in an endless cycle of self-rumination, worrying about all kinds of things that will never happen.

Here are the three important things to know about childhood anxiety.

  1. Get help early. Left untreated, childhood anxiety can continue throughout adulthood. This disorder manifests itself around age eight and is typically reflected in kids’ feeling nervous, seeking constant reassurance, and having problems making any decisions.
  2. Therapy is effective. Anxiety disorders are among the most common and easily treated psychological problems.  In most cases, a cognitive-behavioral approach is very effective. This involves challenging kids’ unhealthy thought patterns and helping them view the world a bit differently. While anxiety is referred to as a mood disorder, the real pathology is the way children think about themselves and others. Kids don’t get better by simply talking to someone else. Effective therapy helps kids change their behavior patterns. When they experience success in making small changes, the underlying belief systems change as well.
  3. Expect a relapse.  Some kids have a predisposition to anxiety due to their hypersensitivity or other factors.  These youth need periodic follow-up care and treatment to relearn the techniques to help them relax and enjoy life.