Helping a Child with Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety is never an easy problem to deal with, regardless of the person’s age. But it can be even more difficult when children are affected. For the parents, it may be difficult to understand why a child may be feeling anxious. The problem may even be misconstrued for something else.
Anxiety disorders are common among children. But, often parents fail to detect them. As a result, they commonly go untreated for a long time, even when there are effective interventions. Parents should ideally seek help when worry or avoidance behavior keeps a child from normal functioning.
The fact that parents often misunderstand anxiety disorders in their children and fail to help get was emphasized in a recent report by researchers at the Child Mind Institute, New York. According to the 2018 Children’s Mental Health Report, symptoms of anxiety disorder may be taken as signs of other things.
Another challenge is that when some parents realize their children have an anxiety disorder they erroneously assume it’s something they will get over with time.
“To me, anxiety is one of the most under-recognized or under-treated conditions of childhood and adolescence,” Kathleen Merikangas, head of the National Institute of Mental Health’s Genetic Epidemiology Research Branch and lead investigator, said.
According to her, the tendency for anxiety which does not come with attention or developmental issues in some children can lead to a missed diagnosis.
An example of misunderstanding anxiety is that of a child who is too shy or too afraid to speak while in class. Kathleen said the teacher might mistake that as an indication of lack of interest in class activity.
Poor treatment and progressively worsening problem
Many people might assume that there has been a surge in the incidence of underlying disorders producing anxiety. This is going by reports that the rates of the problem among young people in the U.S. have risen significantly.
But Merikangas said there hasn’t really been any evidence that clinical anxiety disorders have increased dramatically. She stated that the prevalence trend was consistent for the period from 1998 to 2013. Rather, the main problem is that these disorders aren’t always given due attention.
In another study where Merikangas was also a part of it, it was discovered that anxiety disorders were the most common health issues among adolescents in America. Yet, many of them had never been treated for these problems.
Lack of treatment predisposes children and adolescents to other, more serious psychological disorders. Such may later suffer panic disorder or depression.
Anxiety disorders are also linked to the rising incidence of suicide and suicidal thoughts among young people.
Getting treatment for a child
No loving parents will take delight in seeing their child troubled, anxious or sad. They typically do what they think could help when they realize their child has an anxiety disorder.
However, parents sometimes exacerbate the problem even though they had good intention. They often resort to protecting their children from situations or things that make them anxious or fearful. This is rather counter-productive.
In treating anxiety, mental health professionals usually expose a patient to the situation they fear. They help children develop skills they can use for dealing with such situations.
Jerry Bubrick, a senior clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, advised that parents should not keep their children from anxiety-inducing situations. Exposure helps them learn how to cope in such.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular therapy that incorporates this idea. This also suggests the need for professional assistance for tackling the problem properly.
The report further shows that a child complaining of stomach aches, headaches or another physical symptom frequently may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. So-called “bad” behaviors, such as throwing things around, may also suggest it.
The researchers cautioned against waiting for the anxiety symptoms to resolve on their own, as some parents do. This can be damaging to the brains of children.