When to Seek Professional Help for Your Child
It is frightening and upsetting to recognize that your child has an emotional problem and will need professional help. The first step for the parents is to discuss between them how they will approachh their child about seeking help. A gentle but honest approachh about how the child is feeling and what he or she is experiencing is the way to begin. Then, tell your child what your thoughts are about taking action: discussing the situation with teachers, guidance counselors, and your family physician. Allow your child to express their feelings, ideas, and concerns about your plans. Your child may feel frightened, ashamed, or relieved about consulting with professionals. Help your child to work through any feeling they have about getting treatment.
Symptoms in Children
Children share some of the same symptoms as adults with anxiety, but some symptoms are more common to children than adults and adolescents. As children grow into adolescence, their symptoms become the same as adults'. The behaviors and symptoms that demonstrate the need for professional help are:
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety:
Freezing with fear
Behavioral Symptoms of Anxiety:
Refusal to go to school
Avoidance due to feelings of dread to feared things or situations
Inability to socialize with peers
Poor school performance
Other marked behavioral changes include: the difficulty your child/adolescent has in coping with daily stressors, changes in eating and sleeping habits, and hyperactivity/extreme restlessness. Acting out behavior, such as drug and alcohol use; eating disorders; self-injurious behavior, such as “cutting”; and sexual acting out, signals emotional problems. Suicidal threats and threats to others should be taken seriously, and either immediately take your child to the nearest hospital, call a mental health professional, or contact the suicide hotline in the blue pages of your phone book.
When you are ready to seek professional help, first visit your family physician and have your doctor give your child a complete medical exam. Then get a referral to a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other mental health professional who specializes in working with children and anxiety. The specialist will provide information for you to help your child and, if a diagnosis is made, will set up a treatment plan with you that may include individual therapy for your child, family therapy, and medication.
The majority of adolescents who commit suicide have trouble handling stressful events and experiences, such as family problems, breaking up with a boyfriend/girlfriend, failing in school, and other major disappointments. Research shows that mental disturbances like anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and drug and alcohol use are likely to accompany suicidal behavior.
Helping Your Anxious Child
There are many things you can do at home to help your child cope with his or her anxiety. Behaving a certain way with your child, and teaching your child exercises and techniques that they can use in fearful situations will help your child build their confidence and take control of the anxiety. The following are some measures you can take:
Understand that your child's fear is real, even though it may seem trivial to you.
Openly talk to your child about his or her feelings about being afraid to lessen the impact of the feared thing or situation.
Never demean, tease, or put down your child for being afraid.
Teach your child coping exercises and techniques, like diaphragmatic breathing, and changing negative self-talk to positive uplifting statements.
When your child has learned coping techniques begin to gently guide him or her to face his or her fears.
Educate yourself on the best way to help your child overcome and take control of his or her debilitating anxiety.
Involve Your Child in Her Treatment
Discuss with your child the ways in which she copes with fearful situations. Praise your child for trying to help herself, and work with her on improving her techniques or learning new ones. Have your child be part of her treatment plan to make her feel she has some control over her anxiety. For example, if she is afraid of going to school, discuss with her what techniques she thinks will work best, and where she wants to use them.
It is important to believe that your child has the capacity to overcome her anxiety. It is very difficult as a parent to watch your child struggling with her emotions and fears. But labeling your child as always fearful and scared may cause you to do things for your child that she can do herself. Take stock of how you feel and act when you are with your child. If you are lost about what to do, get professional help.