I often get asked why Childhood Anxiety seems to be more prevalent today. We find ourselves questioning if we are simply more aware of the signs and symptoms or if we are in fact entering an ‘epidemic’?
Perhaps our kids are less resilient? Or is there a greater exposure to more stressors in today’s fast-paced society?
Whilst these questions are certainly debatable, what we do know is that Anxiety is impacting our kids.
According to the Australian Health Department, 13.9% of Children aged 4-17 years old meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental disorder. Of those, 6.9% or approximately half meet the criteria for an Anxiety Disorder.
Just like adults, children have worries and it’s important that we try to understand the relevance of these worries in respect to the age of the child. Children’s worries (big and small) are often valid and it is our job as parents, educators and health professionals to acknowledge and support our children through them as they navigate life.
Anxiety and Worry often initially present as a combination of behavioural and physical symptoms in children which can often make it difficult to detect as Anxiety. Some of these may include:
Increased irritability and behavioural ‘outbursts’
Butterflies or a sore tummy
Headaches and dizziness
Trembling arms and legs
Reports of “being able to feel heartbeats”
Difficulty concentrating at school
Avoidance of a particular place, person or experience
Resistance when separating from primary carers (such as school drop off).
As with adults, it is normal for our kids to worry at times when change is occurring, stressors are increased and as they develop emotionally and intellectually. In times of worry, it is crucial that we support our children and empower them to work through their worries whilst validating them as normal feelings relative to the situation. Some everyday worry management tips include:
Validate the worry and make time to talk about the worry
Support the child but encourage them to make decisions and find solutions
Encourage positive thinking about a situation in comparison to the worry
Label the emotions and physical symptoms what they are
Take time out to do something that the child enjoys or that is calming
Model helpful coping strategies when you come across difficult situations.
At Queensgate Psychology Centre, I see children and adolescents with all kinds of worries. Currently, the most commonly diagnosed is Separation Anxiety, followed by Generalised Anxiety and Phobia’s. It is important to understand that your child does not need to have a specific worry to benefit from psychological support, as we can assist your child with skills that apply across many settings and stressful times.
If you notice that your child is frequently complaining of the above physical symptoms and or has reoccurring worry, then it is recommended that you book an extended appointment with a GP. Your local GP will ensure that your child is physically healthy and may then recommend and refer for Psychological Therapy to assist your child in coping with their worries.
Maddison Pike, Registered Psychologist
Queensgate Psychologist Centre