September Skills: Anxiety Vs. Worry, When to seek help for your child
As human beings, we constantly have things on our minds. Early morning work meetings, juggling finances or waiting for test results about a family member are common examples that keep our minds racing. When a child experiences worry, it’s often our first instant to sooth this child’s consuming thoughts and assure them ‘everything will be just fine’. As a parent or professional who works with children you might find yourself asking when do we stop calling it ‘worrying’ and address it as anxiety.
According to the CDC, 7.1% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.4 million) have diagnosed anxiety. These numbers may seem rather large but anxiety is often under diagnosed in children and treatment is often not sought out. When anxiety is first seen in a child, other medical conditions often need to be ruled out as the underlying issue which can delay and complicate the process of getting the right treatment.
A lot of parents and caregivers consistently find themselves trying to figure out: “Is this normal everyday life worrying or does my child have anxiety?”
Here are some signs that worry has grown into anxiety:
Inability to Act: Anxiety often causes a paralyzing feeling.. Children often appear to be stuck or may even seem oppositional when in fact anxious thoughts can become consuming making it impossible for children to form words or actions in that moment. Worry typically makes us want to act. For example if a child is worried about an upcoming test, they will likely set aside time to study longer or even ask for extra help.
It’s all about the Timing: we all have worries throughout our day. It is normal for kids to overthink things in their daily life. When it comes to everyday occurrences, a child who experiences worry may spend a few minutes or an hour thinking about this particular topic and shift gears. For a child who has anxiety, these worries may last multiple hours and can span into multiple days.
Somatic Symptoms: One of the first things a medical provider will recommend when they see a child with anxiety is to rule out any underlying medical issues. The reason for this is that anxiety often causes physical symptoms such as upset stomach, headaches, tension in the body, difficulty breathing and raised blood pressure. For a child who experiences worry, they may experience some mild physical symptoms that often dissipate. This differs from someone with anxiety as they may experience chronic headaches and they may present with physical symptoms needing medical intervention.
Active Avoidance: Children often prefer to avoid anxiety provoking experiences. For example, a child who has school based anxiety will often ask to stay home from school to avoid it entirely. A child with everyday worries about school, may struggle some days to go to a certain subject and overall is able to cope with the worry to make it through an entire school day.
Children experiencing anxiety may utilize ineffective ways to avoid or decrease these uncomfortable feelings. These behaviors can include:
When questioning whether your child is dealing with everyday worries or experiencing significant anxiety, it’s important to seek support. Anxiety in childhood is treatable and can significantly reduce with the help of mental health professionals.