I want life to be easier for Jake. He’s an exact replica of me. I was the kid who always had a stomachache, always worried about doing something wrong, kept thinking I was going to get in trouble – and, of course, I never, ever did. I was the model child. He’s always on edge, looking around at what other kids are doing, making sure he’s not doing anything different. He’s only five years old. Why can’t he relax like the other kids? It kills me.
Sarah has never been a worrier; she was always my confident straight-A student, but suddenly she has become paralyzed with fear about everything. She is hesitant to try anything new, she’s doubting her abilities, she second-guesses everything. It’s heartbreaking – we don’t know what happened to our girl, and we don’t know how to get her back.
The above scenarios are two of many in Dr. Tamar Chansky’s book Freeing Your Child from Anxiety. Below, I’ve outlined the different types of anxiety that children can experience:
Panic disorder: This is accompanied by panic attacks, which include feelings of fear and dread that come with no warning. Those feelings are associated with sweating, chest pain, irregular heartbeats, and trouble breathing. Many times, these panic attacks are mistaken for heart attacks by the sufferer.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): The World Health Organization estimates that around 2.5% of the world’s population, ranging from children to senior citizens, is affected by OCD, an anxiety disorder. Evidence is strong that OCD tends to run in families. Of course, having a genetic tendency for OCD does not mean people will develop it, but it does mean there is a greater chance.
Dr. Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph of the Emours Center for Children’s Health Media states that people “with OCD become preoccupied with whether something could be harmful, dangerous, wrong, or dirty – or with thoughts about bad stuff that might happen. With OCD, upsetting or scary thoughts or images, called obsessions, pop into a person’s mind and are hard to shake.”
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 PTSD include:
Anger and irritability
Guilt, shame, or self-blame
Depression and hopelessness
Feeling alienated and alone
Feelings of mistrust and betrayal
Headaches, stomach problems, chest pain
Social Phobia: Social phobia is characterized by an overwhelming fear when confronted with social situations. Those with social phobia have a strong fear of being judged by others or publicly embarrassed. They might be afraid of doing common things in front of other people – for example, eating or drinking in front of other people, or ordering a drink at a coffee shop. Generally, this condition is diagnosed in children when they start school, but it can be interpreted as shyness and only get diagnosed later in life.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: This is the least specific, but perhaps one of the most prevalent. People with generalized anxiety disorder feel severe tension and worry even when there is little or nothing to provoke that fear.
Chansky suggests seven steps to overcoming anxiety:
Empathize. We always want to tell our children, “There’s nothing to worry about,” but if our children are worrying, it will help them to know that we understand they are afraid and we can see things from their perspective. We might know that there is nothing to worry about, but it will help our children if we can see things through their eyes for a moment.
Reframe the problem. Dr. Chansky has some great techniques for helping children relabel the worry. Instead of always listening to the messages from what Dr. Chansky calls “the worry brain,” children can learn to filter those messages and reframe them. This is something that we work on in my six-week program for helping children succeed in school.
Shrink down to size. Once we acknowledge and reframe the worry, we can “fact-check” it. Help your child think rationally about whether the actual event lives up to the fear that it is producing.
Turn off the alarms. Our bodies sound the alarm when we are anxious: we sweat, our hearts race, our face get hot, we feel dizzy. Children need to learn relaxation techniques to manage those physical reactions, for example, deep breathing or meditation.
Practice dealing with the worry. The more you are exposed to worries (with the tools to deal with them), the better equipt you will be when real worries come your way. In order to prevent children from becoming overwhelmed, build up their “worry management muscles” when the stakes are low.
Move forward. Help your child get unstuck. When he or she is stuck in a worry, figure out another activity to take his or her mind off of it. Physical activities are often best because they involve both the body and the brain.
Positive reinforcement. Compliment or reward your child when he or she is courageous and fights through the worry. This will encourage calm in the future.
Anxiety can be crippling, especially in the first months of school. Give your child the tools he needs in order to fight the worry and succeed!
Register now for a Social Thinking workshop by Michelle Garcia Winner on November 16. Please call Mrs. Schonfeld at 718-382-5437 for more information.