Anxiety in Children
Fight Flight Freeze – A Guide to Anxiety for Kids
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns for children and adults, affecting upwards of 20% of children and adolescents over the lifespan. Anxious youth are often quiet and well behaved, and thus frequently go unnoticed by their parents, teachers, and coaches. Alternatively others can be disruptive and act out, being labeled as having attention deficit disorder or being a “bad” kid. Both scenarios result in youth failing to receive the help they desperately need. Sadly, untreated anxiety can lead to depression, missed opportunities in career and relationships, increased substance use, and a decreased quality of life.
Parents often say that from a very young age, they knew there was something different about their child, but did not immediately recognize it as an anxiety problem. Some waited for their child to “grow out of it”, never expecting their child to become even more debilitated over time. Other parents viewed the anxious behaviours as normal as, they, too behaved in a similar way. As a result, parents of anxious children and teens are often confused about what to do, as well as frustrated, and overwhelmed.
The good news is that this website is designed to help parents and their anxious children. You will find practical strategies and tools to help you manage your child’s anxiety, whether your child is just beginning to show symptoms, or has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. The first step is to find out more about anxiety — how it presents, how it works, and how to recognize if it is problematic.
Parents play an essential role in helping their child or teen manage anxiety. When coping skills and brave behaviour is rewarded and practiced in the home, children and teens can learn to face their fears, take reasonable risks, and ultimately gain confidence.
For even more information and tools, visit MAP for Children. My Anxiety Plan (MAP) is a free, self-paced, online anxiety management program designed to help with anxiety. MAP includes 6 easy to navigate units with 45 lessons.
Does My Child Have An Anxiety Disorder?
As discussed throughout this website, anxiety is useful in certain situations, some of the time. But how do you, the parent or caregiver, know when the signs of anxiety you are seeing in your child might be significant enough to qualify for an anxiety disorder? An appointment with your family physician or a trained mental health professional is a good first step. However, in preparation for that visit, or to decide whether a visit is needed, it can help to understand what professionals look for in diagnosing an anxiety disorder.
To begin with, there are eleven different “types” of anxiety disorders, and each anxiety disorder has a list of commonly occurring symptoms clustered into four areas:
- Physical responses
Next, anxiety specialists have identified that when a child experiences anxiety more often (e.g. most days, and for months at a time), and more intensely than other children of the same age, it is more likely that the child has an anxiety disorder. Finally, those children who experience a specific list of anxious symptoms, more frequently and intensely than peers, are more likely to also experience significant disruption in their lives. This disruption can interrupt or even stop him or her from participating in a variety of typical childhood experiences such as:
- Attending school
- Joining social, athletic, or recreational clubs
- Meeting age expected demands such as sleeping through the night, doing homework, and making friends.
It is common for children and teens to experience anxiety symptoms of more than one anxiety disorder. This means as you read the definitions, it would be fairly common to say, “Yes! This sounds like my child, but so does this other description!” Fortunately, the helpful approaches outlined throughout the website can be used for various anxiety problems, many of the same tools can be used for all the disorders.
It may be hard for children to recognize anxiety, which is why Caretoons, our animated series, are powerful tools. Not only do they entertain with fun characters, but they help kids understand the anxieties they feel and how to cope with them. Let Drexal the Alien and Chris Crust the time-travelling pizza slice help you start a conversation with your child about anxiety. Our Caretoons show children that it’s okay to talk about mental health with someone they trust, and they’re not alone. Follow Drexal and Chris Crust on our YouTube channel.
Help children prepare for school-based vaccinations and other stressors using the CARD™ system (Comfort, Ask, Relax, Distract). Many parents agree that the quality of their child’s school vaccination experience can influence their feelings about vaccinations in the future. CARD™ is a science-based, proven framework that helps children cope with stressful events, like school-based vaccinations. A free CARD™ Toolkit for parents, educators, and health professionals is available for download here.