Anxiety in children can be triggered at a moment’s notice, by things totally beyond your control. Perhaps your son or daughter got into an argument with a friend and now they’re too fearful to go to school. Perhaps someone teased them on the bus and now they refuses to ride it to school. Anxiety in children is extremely common; in fact, some studies estimate that 93% of school age children will experience anxiety at some point during childhood. Some parents don’t want to confront their child’s anxiety because they are afraid it’s a reflection on their parenting skills, or that they will make the problem worse. Rest assured, anxiety is rarely caused by parental skills (or lack thereof) and making changes to help your child can often greatly improve the problem.
Anxiety needs to be dealt with swiftly because it can creep up and cause serious damage to your child’s life. Studies show that children who experience regular panic attacks are more likely to exhibit poor school performance, have fewer friends, and have trouble developing the necessary social skills they need to make it through adult life. So by confronting the issue head on, you can give your child the skills they needs to succeed – not only at school, but for the rest of their life.
Learning how to manage stress and combat anxiety effectively are both crucial life skills that can and should be learned by everyone in the family. In fact, by making it a family affair, you can remove some of the “elephant in the room” feelings about the issue. But before you begin implementing a strategy for dealing with your child’s fear and anxiety, it helps to understand how anxiety affects your child both in mind and in body.
The Physical and Emotional Symptoms of Stress
Think about the last time you experienced an intense feeling of fear. Maybe you had a close call while driving on the highway – how did you react? Chances are your heartbeat increased, your breathing became shallow and rapid, and your palms began sweating. You may have felt that you were losing control or that you were going to die. This was the fight or flight response triggered in your body by the release of adrenaline and cortisol. Of course, as adults, we typically recognize the fear response for what it is.
But kids are often unable to completely understand this feeling, and the physical and emotional feelings that the stress response creates in the body can scare them and leave them confused and frightened long after the fearful event has passed. This leads to a vicious cycle of fear and fear response which can be difficult – if not impossible – for your child to break free from without help. In addition, the stimulus and response to stress are linked in your child’s brain through the formation of neural pathways – shortcuts that make the stress response kick in more quickly and intensely the next time she is exposed to the same stimulus. So how can you break this cycle and help your child manage or prevent panic attacks?
Let’s look at the different types of treatment available for anxiety in children, so that you can decide what will work best for your child.
Treatment for Anxiety in Children
Phobias and anxiety disorders in children can be treated in three distinct ways: drug therapy, traditional psychotherapy, or self-help treatment for stress reduction. Drug therapy in children is controversial and many parents are understandably reluctant to place their children on antidepressants or any other type of medication. These drugs do carry troubling side effects that can pose serious health risks to kids. Traditional psychotherapy can be cost prohibitive, especially for families who have limited or no healthcare available. Sessions with psychologists can also be intimidating for kids, so it can be difficult to get your child to see a therapist or to adequately engage with the professional when they’re there.
Self-help treatment has three very clear benefits to parents and children. First, it’s a cost-effective way to treat phobias. For the price of a single counseling session, you can purchase an entire treatment program for your child. And since insurance companies do not get involved, your child’s privacy is assured. Second, self-help techniques can be introduced and implemented at home, making them much less intimidating for kids – in fact, you can get the whole family involved. Finally, self-help treatment is completely customizable – your child can follow whatever techniques work best for her, and discard the ones that aren’t as helpful for dealing with their anxiety.
Now that we’ve established how to treat your child’s anxiety, what are some of the techniques she will learn in a self-help program? Read on for a sampling of behavioral therapy techniques they may learn and implement, depending on the program chosen.
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Self-Help Techniques for Conquering Anxiety
Your child can learn to put the brakes on an impending panic attack with stress reduction techniques. Studies have also shown that reducing stress will help in other areas of life, such as sleep quality and quantity, which will also help prevent your child from being as vulnerable to stress-induced anxiety attacks to begin with. You can help your child learn these healthy lifestyle skills and implement them as a family – it’s great for everyone to get involved.
- Yoga – yoga is often called “meditation in motion” and has been a stress-reduction technique for thousands of centuries. It’s also good for your physical wellbeing too.
- Breathing – also known as diaphragmatic breathing, this special technique helps your child prevent hyperventilation as it allows more oxygen into the bloodstream.
- Meditation – allows children to visualize peace and serenity, and to recall this feeling during moments of stress or impending panic.
- Laughter – studies show that laughter can actually improve sleep quality and quantity. Encouraging your child to laugh often will help her feel better and to put things in perspective.
- Catastrophic Thinking Reduction – children are prone to runaway ideas, especially when it comes to the question: What’s the worst that can happen? Allowing your child to speak out her worst fears and then working through ways to deal with these worst-case scenarios can help to curb catastrophic thinking.
Of course the above is just a very small sampling of mainstream stress reduction techniques. If you decide to begin using a self-help program such as The Anxiety-Free Child Program with your child, you can learn far more than we have listed, as well as advanced strategies and techniques to use with your child.
Implementing a self-help program can give your child the tools she needs to deal with stress effectively and lead a full and productive life. If your child is suffering from an anxiety disorder, you can begin helping them today with the right self-help treatment plan.