Anxiety in Children
Anxiety is a common mental heath condition characterized by changes in mood, behavior, and functioning that persist for at least several weeks and cause difficulties in functioning. For children this might mean academic or behavioral difficulties at school, difficulties interacting with peers, or withdrawing from family. Anxiety is more than simply being in a bad mood, feeling sad, or having a negative attitude and includes other significant psychological, biological, and behavioral changes.
Anxiety Signs and Symptoms
Frequent mood swings
Loss of energy or fatigue
Thoughts of death or suicide
Academic difficulties (e..g, drop in grades, not doing school work)
Behavioral issues (e.g., getting into trouble at school, or refusing to go to school)
Change in appetite
Thoughts of death or suicide
Anxiety Treatment for Children
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most researched and scientifically proven psychotherapy for treating anxiety in children. CBT is a very practical and easy to understand treatment approach that emphasizes the here-and-now and the development of effective coping skills and strategies. In children, more emphasis is typically placed on behavioral interventions than on the development of insight.
Psychotherapy (i.e., talk or behavioral therapy) is an effective treatment for anxiety in children and for mild to moderate anxiety is recommended as a first-line treatment. For more severe cases of anxiety a combination of medication and psychotherapy is typically recommended.
Certain medications (i.e., SSRIs) are commonly used to treat anxiety in children and like psychotherapy have been proven to be effective. While the use of medication to treat anxiety in children has grown steadily over the past couple of decades there remains concern regarding the safety of some medication use in children. For more information regarding the use of medications in treating depression in children click here to visit the NIMH website on the matter.
Family therapy is also commonly recommended for children who are experiencing anxiety. Family therapy aims to help parents and caregivers learn how to more effectively provide support create a less stressful environment for the child. Individual therapy with children is more effective when parents and/or caregiver take an active role in treatment.
Anxiety Therapists for Children
Managing Anxiety in Children
It seems like anxiety is more prevalent today than ever before. More children are being seen in mental health settings for difficulties ranging from school avoidance, social issues, academic obsession, to poor sleeping habits.
Many children struggle to understand and verbalize feelings of stress. They internalize it instead. For children, stress tends to manifest as headaches, stomachaches, sleep disturbance, changes in eating habits and irritability.
Parents can help by instilling in their children, the habit of daily mindfulness. What exactly is Mindfulness? It is the practice of keeping your mind fully attended to what’s happening; to what you’re doing; to the space you’re moving through. That might seem trivial, except for the fact that we are so often distracted from what is happening right in front of us. Our mind takes flight, we lose touch with our body, and pretty soon we’re engrossed in obsessive thoughts about something that just happened or worrying about the future. And that makes us anxious. It is important to remind ourselves to do one thing at a time.
5 Things to Know About Mindfulness:
- Mindfulness is not obscure or exotic. It’s familiar to us because it’s what we already do, how we already are.
- Mindfulness is not a special added thing we do. We already have the capacity to be present, and it doesn’t require us to change who we are. We can cultivate these innate qualities with simple practices that are scientifically demonstrated to benefit our lives.
- You don’t need to change. Solutions that ask us to change who we are or become something we’re not have failed us over and over again. Mindfulness recognizes and builds on the best of who we are as human beings.
- Anyone can do it. Mindfulness practice does not require anyone to change their beliefs. Everyone can benefit and it’s easy to learn.
- It’s evidence-based. We don’t have to take mindfulness on faith. Both science and experience demonstrate its positive benefits for our health, happiness, work, and relationships.
How to Start Simple Meditation
- Take a seat. Whatever you’re sitting on—a chair, a cushion, a park bench—find a spot that gives you a stable, solid seat.
- Notice what your legs are doing. If you are on the floor, cross your legs comfortably in front of you. (If you already do some kind of seated yoga posture, go ahead.) If you are on a chair, it’s good if the bottoms of your feet are touching the floor.
- Straighten—but don’t stiffen— your upper body. The spine has natural curvature. Let it be there. Your head and shoulders can comfortably rest on top of your vertebrae.
- Situate your upper arms parallel to your upper body. Then let your hands drop onto the tops of your legs. With your upper arms at your sides, your hands will land in the right spot. Too far forward will make you hunch. Too far back will make you stiff. You’re tuning the strings of your body—not too tight and not too loose.
- Drop your chin a little and let your gaze fall gently downward. You may let your eyelids lower. If you feel the need, you may lower them completely, but it’s not necessary to close your eyes when meditating. You can simply let what appears before your eyes be there without focusing on it.
- Be there for a few moments. Relax. When your posture is established, feel your breath—or try saying “follow”—as it goes out and as it goes in. Inevitably, your attention will leave the breath and wander to other places. When you get around to noticing this—in a few seconds, a minute, five minutes—return your attention to the breath. Don’t bother judging yourself or obsessing over the content of the thoughts. Come back. You go away, you come back.
- That’s it. That’s the practice. It’s often been said that it’s very simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. The work is to just keep doing it. Results will improve.
Apps to Help your child learn Mindfulness
- Breathe, Think, Do Sesame
Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame is intended for parents and caregivers to use with their young children (ages 2-5) to help teach skills such as problem-solving, self-control, planning, and task persistence.
Calm is the perfect meditation app for beginners, but also includes hundreds of programs for intermediate and advanced users. Guided meditation sessions are available in lengths of 3, 5, 10, 15, 20 or 25 minutes so you can choose the perfect length to fit with your schedule.
Meditation made simple. Guided meditations suitable for all levels.
4. Stop, Breathe, and Think Kids
As parents, we want to raise our kids to be able to handle whatever comes their way. Stop, Breathe & Think Kids offers children a fun and easy way to identify and process their emotions. From counting breaths to friendly wishes or frog jumps, each activity brings fun rewards to keep them engaged.
What it Costs: Free (iOS)
5. Breathing Bubbles
Breathing Bubbles is an app that helps kids practice releasing worries and focusing on good feelings by allowing kids to select the emotion they are feeling and how strongly they are feeling it. Kids can choose to handle their emotions by releasing a worry or receiving a joy as Manny the Manatee walks them through deep breathing and visualization.
What it Costs: Free (iOS)
6. Smiling Mind
Smiling Mind is designed to help manage pressure, stress, and challenges of daily life. This app is suited for kids ages 7-18.
What it Costs: Free (iOS)
HelloMind is an app which helps change negative thought patterns. Children can choose treatments based on whatever is bothering them. Examples include low self-esteem, needing courage, or being afraid to stick up for one’s self.