All children experience anxiety. Anxiety in children is expected and normal at specific times in development. For example, from approximately age 8 months through the preschool years, healthy youngsters may show intense distress (anxiety) at times of separation from their parents or other caregivers with whom they are close. Young children may have short-lived fears, (such as fear of the dark, storms, animals, or strangers). Anxious children are often overly tense or uptight. Some may seek a lot of reassurance, and their worries may interfere with activities. Parents should not discount a child's fears. Because anxious children may also be quiet, compliant and eager to please, their difficulties may be missed. Parents should be alert to the signs of severe anxiety so they can intervene early to prevent complications.
Does my Child have Anxiety?
· Has my child’s attendance at school changed or are they reluctant to go to school frequently?
· Does my child complain of physical ailments like stomachaches before school or an event which then disappear?
· Has my child seemed unusually, unreasonably, or uncontrollably worried?
· Have I noticed a decline in my child’s motivation at school, ability to concentrate, or memory?
· Have my child’s sleep habits changed? Are they having difficulty falling asleep, staying up later or getting up significantly earlier than usual?
· Has my child been complaining of frequent physical symptoms of anxiety without any medical cause? This often includes stomach or gastrointestinal issues, headaches, muscle soreness, nausea, or excessive sweating.
· Is my child’s response to the news excessive? For instance, are they overly concerned about news of an overseas war or natural disaster?
· Do my child’s worries or fears interfere with their normal life?
· Is my child unduly self-critical or hypersensitive to criticism or negative feedback?
· Does my child seem nervous in social settings or do they attempt to avoid them?
· Is transitioning from one activity to another troublesome for my child?
· Has there been a major life event that effects my child such as a divorce, parental absence, economic change, illness, death, or other trauma?
· Do you find the need to constantly reassure your child?
· Has your child regressed developmentally, such as forgetting toilet training or other acquired skills?
· Does your child seem generally happy?
· Are there outbursts of unexplained or excessive anger with your child?
If you answered “Yes” to a significant number of the above questions, please seek treatment. Alert the school counselor, talk to your child’s pediatrician. Anxiety issues tend to grow, not diminish.
Books for Parents:
The Worried Child: Recognizing Anxiety in Children and Helping them Heal by Paul Foxman 2004
Your Anxious Child: How Parents and Teachers Can Relieve Anxiety in Children by John S. Dacey & Lisa Fiore 2000
The Anxiety Cure for Kids: A Guide for Parents By Elizabeth DuPont Spencer, and Robert L. DuPont 2003
Worry – Hope and Help for a common condition, by Edward M. Hallowell, MD
Books for Kids
Samantha Janes Missing Smile: A Story About Coping With the Loss of a Parent
by Julie Kaplow, Ph.D., & Donna Pincus, Ph.D.
The Bouncing Worry Ball and the Mighty Mitt
By Leslie Brody, PhD
Don't Pop Your Cork on Mondays: The Children's Anti-stress Book.
Moser, A. (1988) Landmark Editions
Henkes (2000) A perfect book for children who have a variety of worries. Wemberly learns not to let worries interfere in his life.
Mama, Don't Go!
Wells & Wheeler (2001)
Jannell Cannon (1993)
This is an award winning book with underlying messages in it about place, acceptance, home and family.
How to Teach Children with Anxiety Diaphragmatic Breathing
Teaching children with anxiety how to manage their fears can be a daunting task. It’s easy to feel that their anxiety is somehow a reflection on your parenting skills; as though somehow you didn’t do your job well enough. Or you may be afraid that your child needs counseling, intensive therapy, or has issues with a mental illness. In reality, one in ten children will experience anxiety at some point during their childhoods. We are talking about feelings and anxiety in Social-Emotional Lessons in school too. Your child can learn coping tools she needs to break free of the anxious thought process.
Fear: The Mind/Body Connection
Sometimes anxiety is the result of a genetic predisposition to fear, (many kids with anxiety have a parent with anxiety) or is environmental or lifestyle? Both things can trigger anxiety in kids, we are born with a “Fight or Flight” response. When things are stressful for us, cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline begin pumping, your body is creating this reaction as a result of a perceived threat. A good example of this is when you almost have a car accident – your body starts the “fight or flight” response. Evolutionarily speaking, our bodies haven’t changed much, if we get stressed, to our body it’s almost like there is a giant tiger lurking!
Children are the same way. If your child is headed to school and something crosses her mind that provokes an anxious response, her heartbeat will speed up, her respiration will increase, and her reserves of cortisol and adrenaline will begin pumping. It could be a simply thought, like “I hope no one will make fun of me in school today.” But then, as her fight or flight response kicks in, her physical reaction can actually aggravate her nerves – she notices these physical sensations, and since they are a little scary, she feels even more anxious. This feeds into a vicious circle in which your child is unable to calm herself down because her physical reaction to a single anxious thought is so overpowering.
In addition, the fight or flight response creates what is known as “neural pathways” through the brain. So every time your child is in the same situation that provoked the original anxious response, her brain is now wired to start that same fight or flight response as soon as your child is put in the same situation. This also makes the anxious response more intense as it is reinforced by the brain time and time again. The only way to break the cycle and help your child gain mastery over the anxiety is to teach her coping mechanisms that break the fight or flight response. Diaphragmatic breathing is one such coping mechanism.
What Is Diaphragmatic Breathing?
When the fight or flight response kicks in, your child’s respiration speeds up. In order to break the vicious cycle and calm the stress response, it’s necessary to slow down her breathing. This breathing technique calms and relaxes your child, keeping her from giving way to panic attacks, meltdowns, or other extreme reactions to nervousness.
Diaphragmatic breathing is also known as belly breathing, deep breathing, coastal breathing, or abdominal breathing. Unlike shallow breathing, which only involves flexing the rib cage, in diaphragmatic breathing your child attempts to breathe deeply by flexing the diaphragm. In this way, she ingests more oxygen, which will help keep you from hyperventilating and the body will calm the anxious response.
Teaching your child how to do diaphragmatic breathing is a very valuable way to help her learn to deal with anxiety on her own.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises
You can teach your child to do the following exercise whenever she is faced with an anxiety-provoking situation. Have her start by lying down and then later she can progress to using this exercise in a chair or while standing:
1. Have your child rest on her back and rest her hands on her tummy. (I like to have kids put a piece of paper or a stuffed animal on their tummy so that they can see it go up and down).
2. Have her take a deep breath in through her nose, slowly and gently. Then have her release it through her mouth while saying “ahhhhh.” She should be able to feel her tummy rise and fall since she has one hand on her stomach.
3. Then have your child breathe slowly in through her nose, out through her mouth. Have her imagine she’s trying to blow a feather up in the air.
4. Have her inhale slowly as she counts 2, 3, 4 and exhale 2, 3, 4.
5. Repeat – inhale 2, 3, 4. Exhale 2, 3, 4.
It is important that you practice this technique regularly while in peaceful situations. This will help her to understand and ingrain the exercises in her mind, preparing her for the time when she does have an anxious response.
ADHD Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder What Should You Be Looking For? The symptoms of ADHD in children usually appear early in life, often between the ages of 3 and 6. They can create problems for a child at school, at home, and in their social life. ADHD symptoms fall into three categories: inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Of course, all children show these symptoms sometimes. But they are usually more severe and happen more often in children with ADHD.
Children who are inattentive may:
· have difficulty focusing, organizing, or completing tasks
· miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another
· Lose interest after only a few minutes unless they are doing something they enjoy
· Have trouble with homework assignments
· Lose things (pencils, toys, assignments)
· Seem to not listen when spoken to
· Daydream, become easily confused, and move slowly
· Have difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others do
· Struggle to follow instructions
Children who are hyperactive may:
· Fidget and squirm in their seats
· Talk nonstop
· Run around, touching or playing with anything and everything in sight
· Have trouble sitting still during dinner, school, and story time
· Struggle doing quiet tasks or activities
Children who are impulsive may:
· Be very impatient
· Blurt out inappropriate comments
· Show their emotions without restraint
· Act without regard for consequences
· Interrupt conversations or others' activities
Any of these actions may occur occasionally in any child. However, just because your child may show ADHD symptoms frequently doesn't mean they have it. Other conditions such as anxiety, depression, and certain learning disabilities have similar symptoms. Only a doctor can make an ADHD or other diagnosis.
Resources for Parents
Driven to Distraction, Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood by Edward M. Hallowell, MD & John J. Ratey, MD 1994
Attention Deficit- Hyperactivity Disorder by Moghadam, H. 2006
Understanding Girls with AD/HD by Kathleen G.Nadeau, Ellen B. Quinn, 1999
The Myth of the A.D.D. Child by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D.
The ADHD Parenting Handbook, Practical Advise for Parents from Parents by Colleen Alexander-Roberts
American Academy of Pediatrics www.aap.org/healthtopics/adhd.cfm
Children and Adults with Attention Deficit /Hyperactivity Disorder www.chadd.org
The symptoms of depression in children vary. It is often undiagnosed and untreated because they are passed off as normal emotional and psychological changes that occur during growth. The symptoms of depression in children are often different than adults:
Signs and symptoms of depression in children include:
· Irritability or anger.
· Continuous feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
· Social withdrawal.
· Increased sensitivity to rejection.
· Changes in appetite -- either increased or decreased.
· Changes in sleep -- sleeplessness or excessive sleep.
· Vocal outbursts or crying.
· Difficulty concentrating.
· Fatigue and low energy.
· Physical complaints (such as stomachaches, headaches) that don't respond to treatment.
· Reduced ability to function during events and activities at home or with friends, in school, extracurricular activities, and in other hobbies or interests.