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Anxiety Symptoms in Children

Learn how to recognize anxiety symptoms in children in this Howcast video about child anxiety issues.


I'm going to talk about anxiety symptoms in children. One thing parents should realize is anxiety is a common, typical emotion. We actually need it. You're never going to get rid of all anxiety. Sometimes it helps us be prepared and be ready, be careful. What we want to talk about is a little bit of what happens when children are having problems with anxiety. Now anxiety is a big term, and there are particular kinds of areas where we feel some kids may have problems with anxiety. They may have all sorts of kinds of anxiety and general signs of anxiety. They may worry. They may have lots of things on their mind and stress about it. They may have physical reactions that let you know that they're feeling anxious. And it's an actual anxious feeling in their body, where their heart is racing, or they have sweaty palms, or they're breathing really fast. And they may also just feel worried all the time, and again, think something terrible is going to happen.

Now there are particular kinds of anxiety as well. I'm sure people are familiar with the idea of separation anxiety, and that's where kids are so worried to be away from their parent or their caregiver. They feel like something terrible might happen to them or they'll feel like something terrible will happen to their caregiver or their parent if they're not together. You may have kids that have something like social anxiety, and that's where they are worried in social situations, and when they're in those situations, when they're around a lot of kids, they're in a new situation with friends, then they start to worry, and they may think that they're going to be embarrassed, do something wrong. We also are familiar with, as adults, of anxiety, where you think about having to give a report, and you're going to make a fool of yourself. Kids can have those feelings as well. Kids might also become phobic and have a phobia about certain things - about insects or needles; they don't want to go to the doctor. And when it's a phobia, it means it really has gotten in the way of their functioning. So you can see that anxiety isn't just one thing. What happens is it can be a problem when we feel like it's too intense, in terms of the anxiety is so much that the child can't calm themselves down. It interferes with other parts of their life, so they're not going to school, or they're having nightmares and they're staying up all night, and they can't sleep, because they're so worried about things or scared. And also, it goes on for a long time. It doesn't seem to be getting better, no matter how much you try to problem-solve or reassure or check in the closet or take them to the doctor and show them how you get a needle.

There are all sorts of times when kids just can't calm themselves down, and you're at a loss, and that's when you might need someone to help you and go to a professional that can teach you and your child ways to change how you think, how you feel, and then how you behave, to make those anxieties manageable. If you're really worried about your child, and you're anxious about your child's anxiety, a couple things to do is monitor your own anxiety and make sure that you're not also contributing to your child's anxiety, because it's a complicated mix in terms of where anxiety comes from, in terms of the environment, in terms of the genetics of a child, in terms of their brain chemistry, in terms of what they see around them, and sometimes real danger. So when you are worried and it's a concern, because you see your child maybe having trouble and struggling with their anxiety, you want to get to a professional and find someone that knows how to do what we call "cognitive behavior therapy," and that's a very specific kind of intervention that's very effective to helping kids and helping you help your child not be so worried.

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