By: MaryRose Cobarde Candare
My happy little girl has child anxiety. This is almost a self-contradicting line and not one that is easy to utter. It may even come with a degree of guilt and self-blame. For parents whose children suffer from what doctors call childhood anxiety disorder, the road to acceptance is often desperate and lonely. Unlike a scrape on the knee, there is no ready band-aid to treat the anxiety of your little one.
Fact is, many people don’t “get’’ what anxiety is about.
What is child anxiety? Just like general anxiety, anxiety in children is a form of stress originating from worry over what might happen. Symptoms manifest physically, emotionally and socially. Anxieties are often accompanied by a sense of panic. Just as stress is the body’s natural reaction to pressure or a demanding situation, panic is an involuntary reflex of fear in the face of imminent or possible danger. However, with an anxiety disorder, a situation can be perfectly “normal,” peaceful, and calm and yet the panic (palpitations; the uncomfortable feeling of one’s own heartbeat) ensues. The child feels unsettled, worries about things going wrong or feels a sense of danger. The physical sensations go way ahead of the brain. When the mind does catch up, it reacts by scanning the situation and seeing no apparent cause, it begins to wonder. This wondering quickly turns into a full-blown panic as the brain grapples with an explanation which often ends up as “There’s something wrong with me!’’
The object of worry could be anything – from illness to grades, it may be bullies or a new environment. Additionally, and this is the deeper revelation, it could be unfounded fears. For instance, a child can be consumed by worrying over missing the school bus even when she had never once missed the bus. It could be as trivial as getting the right seat on the bus or arriving ahead of a friend.
Child anxiety is all too often misunderstood as fussiness, even tantrum-like or acting ‘’babyish’’. Please let us not be too quick to dismiss the signs and instead unravel the causes.
How do I know my child has it? Certain signs tell the tale. If you observe that your child experiences or expresses excessive worry regularly; periodically has trouble getting a full night’s sleep; feeling disinterested doing daily routines, is irritable and has trouble concentrating, he or she may be suffering from child anxiety.
Mind Myth-making Assumptions with Meaningful Takes
- You can get anxiety at any age. Yes, adults do not have the exclusive rights to anxiety. For kids facing an exam or moving to a new school can be an anxiety trigger. While a healthy dose of an instinctive alert mode is helpful in responding effectively to any given situation, if the worry interferes with getting the job done and robs your child of joy and energy, it definitely should raise concerns.
- Anxious children are not necessarily under pressure. While it is true that unhealthy demands and unrealistic expectations often cause anxiety in children, they do not tell the whole picture. The sense of doom and hopelessness could actually pop from out of nowhere; even in healthy, loving homes.
- Anxiety has genetic components. While stressful life circumstances can no doubt trigger anxiety in children, several things come into play including brain biochemistry, learned behaviour, and an overactive fight-flight response.
Managing Parental Reaction
Part of the challenge in dealing with an anxious child is the blame game. People often unfairly point the blame on parents and assume that they are the cause of the anxiety. This simply aggravates the natural instinct of self-blame and guilt already felt by parents anytime their children are in any sort of discomfort. While certain relationships at home or family habits and even language may trigger anxiety, they are not always the cause. Just as the child needs support and understanding, so parents too need compassionate concern and non-judgmental help.
Making a Response
When the wave of anxiety strikes…
- Keep your eyes, ears, and heart open. Sit with your child or lose sleep with her (if need be) to guide her through an anxiety episode. Let her talk, cry, draw or paint her anxiety. Do not dismiss her discomfort as “’nothing’. Tell her you are ready to listen and you believe her. Do not judge or blame. Understand and be a patient, positive listener.
- Hug and hold. The human touch has its own healing power. Gently stroke your child’s hair, caress her face or hold her hand as she pours out her thoughts and cries her heart out. This way she feels physically supported and calmed.
- Serve strength. Fill your child with empowering thoughts. Help her understand her situation so she can better manage and cope. Tell her the worry wave or panic episodes come and go. Practice coping mechanisms – both mental and physical, such as visualization, deep breathing or diverting focus to something friendly or physical to ride out the storm.
- Recognize effort and praise generously. Here we can learn from sports trainers who say you can’t control results, you can only control effort. Encourage every effort you see in your child; honor her struggles and do no punish a lack of accomplishment.
Support, nurture, empower and uplift. Anxiety or not.
“I want to understand what your worry feels like. Please tell me. I will listen.”
“Is there something I can do to help?”
Anxiety may resolve and recur. Some persist over a lifetime in highs and lows. Panic attacks come and go. But one thing is constant.
“I love you and I am proud of how brave you are.”
MaryRose Cobarde Candare or MaryMom as she is fondly called by family and friends is a hands-on, working mother of 2 harmonizing her love for her children with her passion for writing and teaching as forms of service to others.