The kind of fear that clings to your throat
And squeezes it tight
Leaving you with only enough breath to stay alive
The kind of fear that steals your voice
Leaves you silent without a choice
But to be quiet, not make a noise
You’ll be inactive
You won’t participate
Your lifeless life you’ll hate
Because of fear
You cannot move
Your head is thumping
You’re so afraid to fall
You don’t move at all
You’re nervous, you’re anxious
You’re dizzy, you’re clumsy
You can’t think straight
Yourself you’ll hate
Because of paralyzing fear
Your life is taking you nowhere
– Latisha Barker
Anyone who has experienced a panic attack is familiar with the feelings expressed above – paralyzing fear, difficulty breathing, dizziness, and nerves. But, while panic attacks are real and extreme, everyone experiences some sort of anxiety on a daily basis. The question is: how much is too much?
As your child grows and learns more about the world, it is natural for him to be hesitant or fearful of new circumstances. In some ways, it is good if your child is afraid – it will make him more cautious and careful. He will take fewer risks that could be potentially dangerous. However, too much anxiety can be debilitating and detrimental.
Because different fears are appropriate at different ages, a great way to assess the level of your child’s anxiety is to be aware of the stages:
Separation anxiety, or a child’s difficulty in being apart from his parents, is not only typical, but developmentally normal for children in preschool. However, it is generally a transient experience and most children can be easily distracted from their anxiety.
Fear of the dark is natural once your child hits the age of two or three. Using night-lights or glow in the dark stars to brighten the room should help your child overcome this fear. If your child refuses to go to sleep or wakes in terror because of the dark, this might be a sign of a larger issue.
Kindergarten – Fifth Grade
Generalized anxiety can sometimes manifest itself in children during the intermediate ages of 9 and 12. A child who worries excessively and obsessively about school performance, the state of the world, his health, and the health of his family members could be exhibiting signs of generalized anxiety disorder. Pay attention to whether his anxiety is controlling him or he is controlling it.
Sixth Grade – High School
Social Phobia is an anxiety disorder that can emerge when children enter their teenage years. Often, children with social phobias will withdraw from social situations and refuse to participate in extracurricular activities. Sometimes, they will refuse to go to school and will only choose to speak to their parents or siblings. They may get very real headaches, stomachaches, or diarrhea on school days – but the pain comes from their brains, not their bowels.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD involves anxiety and stress about traumatic events in one’s past. This disorder frequently occurs after violent personal assaults, such as mugging, domestic violence, terrorism, natural disasters, or accidents. Children who experienced an extremely disturbing event might subsequently develop generalized anxiety. PTSD is often triggered by sounds, smells, or sights that remind the sufferer of the trauma.
Some symptoms of include:
- Anger and irritability
- Guilt, shame, or self-blame
- Substance abuse
- Depression and hopelessness
- Feeling alienated and alone
- Feelings of mistrust and betrayal
- Headaches, stomach problems, chest pain
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The New York Times defines obsessive-compulsive disorder as “an anxiety disorder in which people have thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviors that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions).”
Some examples of OCD are excessive hand-washing to ward off infection or repeatedly checking the locks on the door to ensure that they are secured. Children with OCD often recognize that their behavior is excessive, but cannot stop themselves from their compulsive actions.
The Link Between Anxiety and Depression
There is a connection between childhood anxiety and teenage depression. Many doctors say that prior to puberty, the equivalent of depression in children is anxiety. The same biochemical issues that children who experience childhood depression deal with are mostly like to lead to depression once they enter puberty.
As a matter of fact, children who have anxiety are more likely to have teen depression. About half of depressed teenagers had a childhood anxiety disorder and of those teens who suffer from anxiety disorders and depression, 85% of them had their anxiety disorder first.
Parents: Be Part of the Solution
Marianna Csoti, in her book, School Phobia, Panic Attacks, and Anxiety in Children, outlines the different ways that parents can help their children overcome anxiety:
- Do not speak about the anxiety in front of your children. Parents should avoid discussing their child’s worries in front of him. Hearing about his own problems can often cause more anxiety and result in his seeing the problems as larger than they are.
- Do not introduce your own worries. Parents should try to remove any unnecessary pressure from the child, as he needs to be protected from stress.
- Reassure your child. Your child should be told that his fears will not always be with him and that he will eventually feel better.
- Listen to your child’s anxieties. Allow your child to express his fears even if they seem silly to you. This does not mean that you have to “give in” to his every whim; rather you are showing him that you are aware of his suffering.
- Create a gentle start to the day. If your child struggles with going to school, wake him early in a gentle manner (with music or cuddles) allowing him time to adjust to the reality of going to school.
- Stick to regular routines. Even though the summers and vacations have their own schedules, sticking to the same bedtime and morning wake-up throughout the summer and school year will allow your child to feel more secure.
· Seek a professional opinion. Anxiety is a serious issue that cannot always be solved by a caring and capable parent. If you feel that your child’s anxiety is affecting you and your family, seek a professional opinion.
About the Author: An acclaimed educator and social skills specialist, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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