Feelings of worry or anxiety are normal in a child. However, an excess of these feelings can be a sign of an anxiety disorder. School performances, birthday parties, or dentist visits can bring up feelings of anxiety in children under 10, but it’s important to know how much is too much.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a combination of emotions that can include nervousness and feeling scared or worried. It often results in a child feeling like something bad is going to happen, even if they are safe. There are a few different types of anxiety disorders, including:
- General Anxiety Disorder
- Separation Anxiety
- Social Anxiety
- Specific Phobias
- Panic Disorder
A child may be experiencing an anxiety disorder if he or she is no longer able to participate in normal social activities because of his or her emotions. In some cases, physical health is impacted as well.
Reasons why certain children develop anxiety disorders vary. However, genetics, environment, childhood trauma, and other psychological factors can all play a role.
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Symptoms of an Anxiety Disorder in Children
Anxiety in children under 10 can present itself in a number of different ways. Some children experience fluctuations in mood while others have more physical symptoms, such as a stomachache or headache.
In many children, physical symptoms of an anxiety disorder begin with an increasingly rapid heartbeat and breathing as their body responds to a heightened sense of fear. This is also known as the “fight or flight” response, during which the body releases chemicals to help prepare for impending danger. However, in an anxiety disorder, this happens even when there is no real threat to a child’s safety or well-being.
Other physical symptoms of an anxiety disorder include:
- Inability to speak
- Upset stomach
- Difficulty sleeping
For some children, symptoms are more socially related, such as clinging to a parent or caregiver, poor school performance, or a fear of spending time with friends or in groups. If your child is showing any of these symptoms, it’s important to talk with a mental health professional or your primary care physician about further testing.
How to Talk to Your Child About Anxiety & Stress
Parents or caregivers may worry about how to talk to their child about anxiety. What to say, when to approach them, or how to help can feel confusing. One of the most helpful things a parent can do is empathize with their child. Encouraging your child to show that he or she is not alone helps to normalize what the child is experiencing and opens a door to productive conversation. Other helpful things to do with your child regarding stress and anxiety include:
- Setting clear expectations about their behavior
- Discussing specific treatment goals
- Giving their anxiety a personal name to help create emotional distance
- Listening as they talk about their feelings
- Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation
- Brainstorming solutions with your child
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Who to Talk to About a Child’s Anxiety
In order to determine if your child has an anxiety disorder, make an appointment with a pediatrician, a mental health counselor, or a trained therapist.
Getting a diagnosis is important because it will allow your child to receive the treatment and help they need. Not seeking help can worsen symptoms and the severity of the anxiety disorder.
Child Anxiety Treatment
There are a few primary treatments for children with anxiety disorders. The first most common treatment is one-on-one talk therapy or counseling. During a counseling session, a therapist may use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) which helps to reframe negative thinking patterns into positive ones and gives a child coping skills to use when anxious thoughts arise. For children who need extra support, medication can be prescribed. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), more commonly known as antidepressants, can help reduce symptoms of anxiety in children by raising serotonin levels in the body. SSRIs are also effective when used in combination with talk therapy.
For more information about child anxiety treatment or information about anxiety disorders, please visit Behavioral Health Services at UPMC or call 1-877-624-4100.
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh ranks consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital is a longtime national leader for women and their newborns. We aim to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond.