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General Practice 2023

Child anxiety: symptoms and how to help the child to control it

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Child anxiety: symptoms and how to help the child to control it
Child anxiety: symptoms and how to help the child to control it

Anxiety is a normal and very common feeling, both in the lives of adults and children, however, when this anxiety is very strong and prevents the child from living his life normally or participating in different activities, it could be a more serious situation, which needs to be addressed to allow for more complete development.

It is common for children to present symptoms of anxiety when their parents separate, when they move house, change schools or when a loved one dies, and therefore, in the face of these more traumatic situations, parents should be aware of the child's behavior, checking if he is adapting to the situation, or if he is developing irrational and excessive fears.

In some cases, the child may have excessive anxiety, which has no identified origin and their worries do not disappear or improve over time, and it is recommended that the child be consulted by a pediatrician or child psychologist so that it is possible to develop strategies that help to face moments of anxiety and stress.

Main symptoms

Small children often find it more difficult to express what they are feeling and, therefore, may not talk about being anxious, as they themselves do not understand what it is to be anxious.

However, there are some signs that can help parents identify an anxiety situation, such as:

  • Being more irritable and tearful than usual;
  • Having trouble falling asleep;
  • Waking up more times than usual during the night;
  • Sucking your thumb again or peeing your pants;
  • Having frequent nightmares.

Older children may be able to express what they are feeling, but often these feelings are not understood as anxiety and the child may end up expressing a lack of confidence and difficulty concentrating, for example, or else, try to avoid routine daily activities such as going out with friends or going to school.

When these symptoms are mild and transient, there is usually no cause for concern, and they represent a transient anxiety situation. However, if it takes more than 1 week to pass, parents or caregivers should be vigilant and try to help the child get through this phase.

Causes of childhood anxiety

Child anxiety episodes do not have a specific cause, however some factors may increase the likelihood of the child having periods of excessive anxiety, such as:

  • Family history of anxiety;
  • Shyness;
  • Having experienced stressful events, such as the loss of a loved one;
  • Changes in brain neurotransmitters;
  • Female.

In addition, living in a stressful family environment, in which the child repeats the actions he sees at home, reinforces his behavior in the face of anxiety situations.

How to help your child control anxiety

When a child enters a chronic anxiety crisis, parents, caregivers and family members are very important to try to break the cycle and restore well-being. However, this task can be quite complicated and even the best-intentioned parents can end up making mistakes that exacerbate anxiety.

Thus, the ideal is that whenever a possible situation of excessive or chronic anxiety is identified, a psychologist should be consulted, in order to make a correct assessment and receive guidance adapted to each case.

Still, some tips that can help manage your child's anxiety include:

1. Don't try to avoid the child's fears

Children who are experiencing anxiety usually have some fears, such as going outside, going to school or even talking to other people. In these situations, what you should do is not try to spare the child and push away all these situations, because, in this way, he will not be able to overcome his fears and will not create strategies to overcome his fear. Furthermore, by avoiding a certain situation, the child will understand that he has reasons to really want to avoid that situation, since the adult is also avoiding them.

However, children should not be forced to face their fears either, as excessive pressure can make the situation worse. Thus, what should be done is to take situations of fear naturally and, whenever possible, show the child that it is possible to overcome this fear.

2. Appreciate what the child is feeling

In an attempt to minimize the child's fear, it is relatively common for parents, or caregivers, to try to tell the child that they should not worry or that they do not need to be afraid, however, these types of sentences, although they are said with a positive purpose, they can be evaluated by the child as a judgment, as they may think that what they are feeling is not right or doesn't make sense, for example.

In this way, the ideal is to talk to the child about their fears and what they are feeling, ensuring that you are on their side to protect them and try to help overcome the situation. This type of attitude usually has a more positive impact, as it helps to strengthen the child's psyche.

3. Try to shorten the period of anxiety

Another way to help the child deal with anxiety is to show that anxiety is a temporary feeling and that it disappears, even when it seems that there is no way to improve.Therefore, whenever possible, parents and caregivers should try to reduce the time of anxiety, which is usually longer before doing an activity. That is, imagining that the child is afraid of going to the dentist, parents can say that he needs to go to the dentist only 1 or 2 hours before, to prevent the child from having this thought for a long time.

4. Explore the situation causing the anxiety

Sometimes it can be helpful for the child to try to explore what he is feeling and to explain the situation in a rational way. So, imagining that the child is afraid of going to the dentist, you can try to talk to the child about what he thinks the dentist does and how important it is in his life. In addition, if the child is comfortable talking, you can also assume the worst that can happen in that situation and help the child create a plan in case this fear happens.

Most of the time, the anxiety level can be reduced when the child feels they have a worst-case plan, giving them more confidence to overcome their fears.

5. Practice relaxing activities with your child

This is a classic, simple technique that can help children control their own anxiety levels when they are alone. For this, the child should be taught some relaxing activities, which can help to divert the thought of the fears he is feeling.

A good relaxation technique consists of taking a deep breath, inhaling for 3 seconds and exhaling for another 3, for example. But other activities like counting the number of boys wearing shorts or listening to music can help distract and better control anxiety.

Check out how to adjust your child's diet to help control anxiety.

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