Anxiety in Children and Adolescents

Anxiety is a common word we throw around quite often without fully understanding what it means and to what extent the  impairment can reach. The American Psychological Association defined anxiety as: " an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure."

There are many mental disorders that are under the category of anxiety and some of them include: specific phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, separation anxiety, selective mutism, panic disorders, etc. In an article by Beesdo, Knappe and Pine (2011), the prevalence rates of anxiety disorders in children and adolescents ranged from 15-20%. These are very high percentages that indicate the elevated numbers of children and adolescents that suffer from the various anxiety related disorders.

So how does anxiety manifest in children and how can we identify it? Anxiety can be noticed in children that complain about physical symptoms that aren't better explained medically. These symptoms can include stomach aches, palpitations and unexplained sweating . You may notice that your child doesn't want to go to school, have play dates or expresses an overwhelming amount of nervousness in social situations. If your child's teachers discuss with you their lack of participation in class or even an inability to speak with them or any of the children, these too may be symptoms of an anxiety disorder.

What can be done? The first step is diagnosing your child. This can be done by either a developmental pediatrician, a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist. Once you have a diagnosis you can proceed in taking active steps towards treating that specific disorder. Psychotherapy, in particular, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is excellent for teaching your child coping skills, helping them reappraise maladaptive beliefs and provide them with insight towards their potential and vast capabilities. This relieves anxieties and can promote their self-esteem. Things that you as a parent can do can include modeling certain behaviors for your child. It is important not to teach or reinforce avoidance behaviors in your child. Teaching them and showing them how you cope with such phobias can model for them that it isn't as scary as they believed and that no bad occurrences came from it. Lastly, it is helpful to speak honestly but with a positive twist when regarding certain anxieties. Highlighting evidence that your child can successfully create friendships or play as they do with their siblings, can challenge their beliefs about such inabilities and can help them generalize  it onto other areas such as in school or on the play ground. Be attentive but also challenge your child in order to promote healthier behavior and beliefs.