Anxiety in children is on the rise.
According to The Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, there was a 20 percent increase in the diagnosis of anxiety in children between 2007 and 2012. Every day at my practice, I see kids who struggle with anxiety.
Anxiety in children is associated with feelings of not being safe or protected. In his book, Modular Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Childhood Anxiety Disorders, Bruce E. Chorpita, PhD, discusses several factors that are present in children who have anxiety.
- First is negative affectivity. These children have a heightened sensitivity to negative events or threatening information and get upset or worried more easily than other children. This is an early temperament trait and puts a child at risk to experience negative emotions. (Gray & McNaughton, 1996).
- The second factor is a child’s perception of control. Some research suggests children who feel they have no control over a situation react more negatively to threatening events. If children early in life feel they have no control over access to food, or behavior of others that is frightening, for example, they may develop the inability to cope with negative events.
- The third factor is specific life experiences. If a child is bullied, experiences domestic violence or a high conflict divorce, is bit by a dog, etc., this accompanied by the other two factors can increase the risk for an anxiety disorder to develop. In summary, temperament, early experiences and specific life events are the three main components that determine a child’s risk for developing an anxiety disorder (Barlow, 2000).
Why all this increase in anxiety? There are many factors that come into play. We have an environment where kids worry about safety. Safety is a basic need of all human beings. We have kids hearing about and seeing mass shootings on an almost weekly basis on T.V. Kids are practicing lockdown drills at school. Some kids are dodging bullets in their neighborhoods while going out to play.
Social Media can create social anxiety in kids due to online bullying, obsessing about self-image, or fear of missing out on what others are doing.
Divorce, especially high conflict divorce can make kids anxious. Kids tells me they feel worried and anxious when there is an ongoing custody battle and they are put in the middle of their parent’s battles. Kids may have to move, switch schools, and go between two houses. Their very foundation is shaken.
School can cause a lot of anxiety for kids as well. Kids talk about feeling pressure by their parents to get straight A’s, fit in socially with other kids at school, test anxiety and being bullied at school.
What are some ways to help kids who are anxious?
- Role model controlling your own anxiety. Kids look to parents and caregivers for how to manage their feelings.
- Help your child calm down by practicing deep breathing. For little ones, you can make it fun by using bubbles, or blowing on a pin wheel.
- Using Essential Oils that kids can smell such as vanilla or lavender can help.
- Try asking your child questions such as “What is the worry telling you?”, “Do you really think that is true?”, or “Why don’t we figure this out together?”.
- Avoid saying “Calm down” or “Just don’t think about it”, as that is rarely helpful.
- Practice positive self -talk with your child such as “I did this before and I can do it again”, “I feel worried, but the feeling will pass”, “I can imagine myself in a peaceful place”. Help your child think about how that place sounds, feels, smells, and looks.
- The goal is not to get rid of anxiety but manage it. If the anxiety gets worse or there is no improvement, time to seek a qualified therapist who can help your child.