If you’re a parent of a child or children with anxiety, you may feel overwhelmed when a panic attack strikes or when a generalized anxiety disorder prevents your child from enjoying life to the fullest. After all, isn’t childhood supposed to be one of the best times of our lives? For children with anxiety, though, childhood can be fraught with irrational fears.
When a child has anxiety, it affects his or her physical and emotional well-being. For instance, he or she may nervous or fearful; however, unlike a “real” fear, the child will produce fight or flight symptoms – often with no apparent cause. Some children will exhibit shyness when speaking to strangers while others may exhibit physical symptoms – such as belly aches – in order to avoid going to school.
It’s easy to misinterpret many of these signs because anxiety symptoms vary among children, ranging from a slight feeling of nervousness to a debilitating state of fear. Here are some of the most common symptoms of childhood anxiety:
Keep in mind that this list is not all-inclusive. Your child may exhibit other symptoms. For instance, a child with Selective Mutism – a type of social phobia – may be physically unable to speak or may grunt instead of using words to communicate. Another child may pull out his hair in reaction to worry. Anxiety has many faces, and as a parent, you may notice signs and symptoms that are different from the ones listed above.
If your child has anxiety, he or she may have been diagnosed by a therapist or a school psychologist – or, perhaps, you’re fully cognizant of the signs of anxiety and have felt helpless to treat them on your own. Child anxiety usually falls in these categories: Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder (PD), Specific Phobias (and accompanying subtypes), and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). In everyday language, a child with an anxiety disorder deals with unfounded worries and fears, which interfere with everyday functioning in their lives to some extent.
You’re not alone. According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, one in eight children in the United States has an anxiety disorder. The good news is that anxiety is highly treatable; however, many families prefer not to take their children to a therapist, which may initially produce more anxiety on the part of the child. Many parents opt to try a self-help program for childhood anxiety instead. In fact, many families prefer to use self-help programs to help their children for a variety of reasons.
Self-help Anxiety Programs are Affordable Alternatives to Therapy
Therapy – even on a short-term basis – is expensive. For many families, this issue alone puts therapy out of reach. While sliding fee-scale programs are available, many families “fall between the cracks,” not eligible for free or reduced services but unable to pay out-of-pocket either. Another unfortunate fact of life is that many cities, in an effort to make budget cuts, have dramatically cut back on mental health offerings in their hospitals and clinics, making mental health services out of reach.
Costs of self-help programs vary, but most families find that they are far more cost-efficient. In fact, an entire self-help program can cost far less than a single session of therapy. Even higher-priced programs are much more affordable than a course of therapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist. These types of programs are available in a variety of mediums ranging from books, DVDs, and online programs just to name a few. For many parents, these affordable options provide a viable alternative to traditional therapy.
Self-help Anxiety Programs are not Confined to One Location
For many children, going to an unfamiliar place to speak with a stranger about their anxiety is anxiety provoking in and of itself. With self-help anxiety programs, children can progress through the lessons from home or anywhere that makes them feel comfortable. This is a definite advantage. Also, because self-help programs don’t have to be scheduled, they can be used when children are more receptive to the ideas and methods presented to them.
This benefit allows parents to personalize their children’s program. In other words, they can use it as little or a lot in times of need, not just during “office hours.” Because children do not know how to process anxiety, the availability of self-help techniques – such as relaxation exercises – when they need them are likely to be more beneficial “in the moment” than in an unfamiliar therapist’s office.
Self-help Anxiety Programs Allow Children to Pace Themselves
One of the greatest benefits of self-help anxiety programs for children is that they can pace themselves according to their needs. For instance, one child with mild anxiety may be able to proceed through each section without incident, gradually improving with each DVD or chapter of a book. Others with moderate or severe anxiety, however, may need to repeat sessions or approach the sessions in manageable bits.
This is beneficial because when children are learning to process and deal with their anxiety, some feel pressured to improve, which, in turn, may create more anxiety. Children who use self-help programs are secure in the knowledge that they are in charge of their progress. Children can enjoy their successes – large or small – without feeling as if they have to “impress” a therapist or get “well” as quickly as possible to diminish the frequency of therapy appointments.
As you can see, using self-help programs to treat childhood anxiety is a cost-efficient way to personalize a program that works for your child, but here’s a daunting fact: According to the Western Journal of Medicine, childhood anxiety is the most common psychiatric disorder among children; however, these disorders are often ignored by practitioners. For parents, this can be disheartening; for children, this can cause a lot of pain during their childhood years.
As parents, we can take a proactive approach in treating anxiety in our children. The short-term benefits will be a child that improves academic performance, feels happier, and does not let worry interfere with the process of just being a kid. The long-term benefits are far too numerous to name since anxiety is the most common mental health issue among adults and affects every area of their lives. Rest assured that by using self-help techniques to treat child anxiety, we can help our children grow into happier, healthier, and well-adjusted adults. For that reason alone, a self-help anxiety program for children is well worth the effort.