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Anxiety in Children

By Pamela Lowell, MSW, LICSW
146 Anoka Ave. Barrington RI 02806
palwrites@aol.com 401-484-2476

Anxiety can be transferred: either genetically or behaviorally, or through community and society, or by over-exposure to certain media. In my family, we called it the “worry” gene or the “Nana” gene after my grandmother, who unfortunately never got the treatment tools she needed to help her cope. She passed on her anxiety to my mother, who passed it to me—which is one of the reasons I specialize in treating anxiety in children and teens. Nana died before Facebook and texting, but I wonder what she would think about all of the neurological changes that the immediate media access from our plugged-in society delivers to our youngest members.

Anxiety symptoms in children typically appear around the age of six.
Signs of anxiety in children: excessive worry (worry that doesn’t make sense.) I often have parents tell me that children will see a scary commercial on TV and obsess about it for days. Or they fear their parent won’t pick them up from school. Or they might experience an actual “anxiety attack” which includes a heavy feeling in their chest, a sense of doom, hyperventilating or excessive crying.
1.Earlier treatment is better so anxious patterns don’t have a chance to become habits. Consult your child’s pediatrician and ask for a therapist recommendation. Make sure the therapist will work with you and your child together so you can help coach the child at home. Parents need to understand how to be most helpful in overcoming this problem.
2.Cognitive behavioral therapy is best. Your child will have a chance to learn skills that will combat the irrational feelings that anxiety brings. Calming techniques like deep breathing (geared towards children) and coaching for situational-specific anxiety, practicing staying calm and learning personal mantras all have proven success rates.
3.Limit media exposure especially before bedtime. Limit after-school activities if your child seems over-stimulated. Limit your OWN screen time (and scream-time) so that your child has a sense of connectedness and calmness with you during the precious time you spend together.
4.Sometimes short-term medication is useful in helping break the cycle of anxiety, but unless anxiety is interfering with school functioning or family relationships, medication should always come after a trial of therapy.
5.Anxiety, while not always preventable, is highly treatable, and the skills your child learns can last a lifetime.