A few years ago, I was the mental health provider for an excellent middle school. I loved working there because the staff cared about the students and did a lot to make sure we met their needs on every level. The team wasn’t punitive but sought to understand why students acted out and then addressed the issue head-on. They did not hesitate to suggest mental health counseling and parents were responsive. They were eager to get their children the assistance they needed. I felt like we were pioneers in connecting mental health needs with educational ones. It made so much sense and truthfully, the positive impact on the lives of so many children was immeasurable.
What issue that I saw increasing was anxiety disorders. Specifically, I saw more middle school boys with anxiety, and it was heartbreaking. These children struggled to get to school on a regular basis. They either complained of stomach aches or just not feeling well or they outright refused to come. I saw parents drag their child into the building because they would not go in there voluntarily. There were many days when I, along with other staff members, would meet the parent’s car in the parking lot to coax the child in. Often we were successful, but sometimes, it was a struggle. I created a plan with the parent and encouraged them to stick with the program. When they did, we saw the anxiety decrease, and ultimately, the child went on to have a good school year. It was tough on the parents because all day they’d worry about what was going on with their child at school or they were getting multiple texts from the child overwrought with unidentifiable fears.
I hosted a lunch bunch for children who struggled with the crowded atmosphere in the school cafeteria. Instead of eating lunch with their peers, they participated in an anxiety group. It was a super idea, and I ended up doing lunch bunch three times a day. I loved it as much as the students because as a therapist, I could see the positive changes they were making. As they improved, we set goals such as, try to eat lunch with peers one day a week. We celebrated every little goal and supported the ones who struggled.
What are the signs of anxiety in child and adolescents? Some are similar to those of adults, but the symptoms can manifest quite differently in kids.
1. Defiance— yes this can be a sign of anxiety. Refusal to comply with your commands maybe anxiety based and not purely obstinance.
2. Frequent crying spells–anxiety sufferers often feel out of control. Children often lack the language to explain what’s going on internally so often crying provides relief when words escape them.
3. Inattentive–Sometimes ADHD is incorrectly diagnosed and is anxiety. The signs can be very similar, and it takes a skilled therapist to get an accurate diagnosis.
4. Irritability— As an adult, you know what it feels like when you’re nervous. Anxiety is ten times worse! If you’re feeling jittery, the heart is racing, and you feel out of control, that will cause irritability.
5. School refusal–A child who is flat out refusing to go to school could be suffering from anxiety. Does your child often complain of headaches, stomach aches and there is no medical reason? It certainly could be an anxiety disorder.
6. Engages in the same routine over and over again? — Anxiety can cause some brains to get locked in a vicious cycle of needing to do things the same way and excessive worry about seemingly small things. For example, hand washing. Some people with anxiety feel like they have to wash their hands multiple times before believing that they’re clean. Others feel compelled to check their homework assignment over and over to make sure they got it right.
There are many types of anxiety which are all distressing to the sufferer. Below are a few:
Generalized anxiety— constant feelings of anxiety. At times might be better but it’s always there.
OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder– This disorder involves repetitive thoughts and behaviors; the need to follow specific routines and habits.
Panic disorder–the sudden experience of feeling like something terrible is about to happen, accompanied by rapid heartbeat, jitteriness, racing thoughts and the need to escape.
Phobias— an irrational fear of situations, objects, animals, planes etc.
There are other types of anxiety disorders, but those are the most common. Unfortunately, anxiety is almost always accompanied by depression. A good therapist knows to address both concerns. Often people who suffer from anxiety feel desperate so parents will need to especially mindful if the symptoms become unbearable.
The good news is that anxiety is manageable if addressed early in a person’s life. There are therapeutic techniques that can be taught to help lessen the symptoms and help the person feel more in control and have fewer symptoms of anxiety. Therapy can teach the child or adult skills to help them live happier lives and to be worry-free.
If you or your child has anxiety, we can help. Call the office and get connected with one of our anxiety specialists. Remember our therapists are in many schools. In my experience therapy is very effective when provided in that setting. We’re there to help your child when he or she needs us the most.
Call the office today to get connected. The intake number is 302.292.1334 x101
Please share this article with others who might have an anxious child. #nostigma