Creative Ways to Ax Childhood Anxiety
By NOAH SMITH
Anxiety is a normal, and usually temporary, part of growing up. But, for many adolescents, experiencing multiple changes at once can have a profound negative effect on their self-image, confidence, and ability to adapt. These children may experience a continual sense of dread or an overwhelming feeling of fear when faced with certain situations.
What causes childhood anxiety?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, anxiety disorders can be attributed to a number of factors, including life events and genetics. In adolescence, these events may include high-stakes testing, increased responsibilities, emerging social awareness, and puberty. Childhood traumas may emerge subconsciously in preteens as apprehension toward certain situations. A good example would be a child involved in a serious automobile accident who suddenly becomes terrified of riding the school bus or traveling the interstate.
Signs and symptoms
There are a number of different types of anxiety disorder, each with their own set of specific symptoms. However, universal signs of a generalized anxiety disorder include:
- Insomnia/disturbed sleep
- Irritability – often with younger siblings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Always feeling on edge
- Unexplained fatigue
- Muscle tension/clenching of teeth
Untreated, childhood anxiety disorders can result in poor performance at school and significant behavioral problems. Village Behavioral Health, a residential treatment facility in Louisville, Tennessee, reports that childhood anxiety disorders may persist into adulthood and can lead to alcohol and substance abuse.
How you can help
In addition to traditional counseling and therapy, you can offer your child opportunities for self-reflection and fun. And while no method is guaranteed to work for every situation, the following tips will help you help your child without bringing attention directly to the anxiety.
Set a schedule. At a certain age, we tend to let our children largely dictate what time they go to bed, how often they eat, and where and when they receive physical activity. This new freedom usually corresponds with the time in their lives they are most emotionally vulnerable. Help your child remain mentally and physically healthy by clearly stating an acceptable bedtime and providing plenty of wholesome foods, including fruits and vegetables. Make sure they eat breakfast every day and get at least 20 to 30 minutes of vigorous muscle movement three times or more per week.
“The Huffington Post recently published an article citing a number of studies linking overexposure to technology to delayed development, sleep deprivation and mental illness in children under the age of 12.”
Take a hike. KidsHealth.org, a website offering doctor-approved health information for kids and their parents, advocates outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, and swimming. These activities are not only good for the body but will help your child clear their mind and enjoy a sense of peace. As an added bonus, your children will have an opportunity to get away from technology and social media, which may help improve their concentration and ability to cope. The Huffington Post recently published an article citing a number of studies linking overexposure to technology to delayed development, sleep deprivation and mental illness in children under the age of 12.
Get a dog. Studies have shown that adults and children alike with severe anxiety and depression benefit from canine companions trained to provide comfort for their owners. These therapy dogs use intuition and keenly developed senses to recognize subtle changes in the handler’s behavior and then take steps to quell a situation before it gets out of hand. You don’t have to have a certified service dog for your child to enjoy the benefits of a canine cuddle. The unconditional love, security, and responsibility that comes along with dog ownership can help your child find a greater sense of purpose, which will go a long way in overcoming their anxiety.
For more information about the benefits of interacting with dogs on dealing with depression and anxiety, check out this comprehensive article from DogOwner: https://www.dogowner.co.uk/dogs-mental-health/ For help with affording animal therapy, check out this article from The Simple Dollar https://www.thesimpledollar.com/financial-wellness/how-to-afford-animal-therapy/
All children, even those not displaying signs of emotional stress, will benefit from structure, family time, and relaxing activities that don’t involve screen time. As parents, it is difficult to know when we are helping our children and when we are hindering them from independently developing into adulthood. However, by providing your child healthy outlets, he or she will naturally develop the tools needed to overcome anxiety and other common coming-of-age complications.