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6 Questions About Pediatric Anxiety You’re Too Afraid to Ask

Most parents want to help their children grow into calm and easy-going adults. Yet, some children seem wired from a young age to be more susceptible to the stressors of life.

Anxiety is a normal emotion that is often triggered by stress. It can appear as worry, apprehension, fear or distress. As children grow, they are subjected to daily stressors and must develop the confidence and skills needed to adapt and accept them. Some children, however, experience anxiety chronically, which over time, can affect their school, home and social life. Anxiety can be a good, natural response to life’s inconsistencies, yet when a child’s anxiety prevents them from enjoying life, help may be needed. Here are six questions about pediatric anxiety that many parents are afraid to ask.

  1. Is my child shy or could he have social anxiety?
    Social anxiety is more than just shyness; it is the complete fear or phobia of being judged that prevents the child from engaging in normal activities. More commonly found in adolescents, a child who is shy can have social relationships, whereas a child with social anxiety often has severe fear of interaction, which can cause panic attacks. Shy children also do not see their shyness as a negative trait. Children with social anxiety have negative feelings associated with their fear, which can lead to shame and depression if left untreated.
  2. Could my child have OCD?
    OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a condition that is characterized by unwanted repetitive thoughts, called obsessions that typically won’t go away unless a compulsive behavior is performed. One commonly known example of OCD is a child concerned about germs and therefore must wash hands repeatedly to cleanse them from their body. Other examples of obsessions include fear of harming ones’ self or a loved one, fear of losing something valuable, intrusive words and excessive concern with order. These worries can be very scary to the child, and the parent. Most children with OCD are diagnosed around 10 years of age. OCD should be treated as early as possible so the child can learn to manage the obsessive thoughts by finding the reality in their thoughts.
  3. My child is worrying all the time. Should I seek help or will it go away over time?Anxious feelings that last for weeks at a time can cause physical distress such as poor sleeping, headaches and nausea. If anxiety is interfering with the normal aspects of life such as their school, home and social life, treatment may be beneficial. Parents should schedule an appointment with their child’s pediatrician to discuss their concerns and determine if treatment may be necessary. If treatment is recommended it is encouraging to know that most children experience vast improvement after short-term therapy. Remember, the earlier treatment is sought, the better.
  4. Since I am anxious, could I have caused my child’s anxiety?
    While anxiety may be inherited, some children develop anxiety through environmental factors, such as trauma, the media or social experiences. A child’s anxiety can be worsened by how their parents react to it, so it is important to try to stay calm and help them learn how to manage it. Parents struggling with anxiety should seek assistance to help learn to manage it better. Exercise, yoga and meditation are often very helpful for both the adult and child.
  5. Does my child need medication to help their anxiety?
    Pediatric anxiety is most often successfully treated through cognitive-behavior therapy, which is a type of therapy that helps the child learn how to identify and replace negative thinking patterns with positive ones. It also helps children recognize the difference between realistic and unrealistic thoughts or fears. There are some instances, however, when a combination of medication and therapy may be needed. Medication can be a short-term or long-term treatment depending on the severity of the child’s symptoms and how they respond to treatment.
  6. If I take my child to see someone for an assessment, will they end up with a diagnosis that follows them through life?
    The initial assessment often begins with the child’s pediatrician or school counselor. This assessment allows the provider to better understand the challenges the child has been facing and helps determine if therapy or other assistance is warranted. There are times when the issue is not serious and further treatment is deemed unnecessary. If the child does need therapy, it is not a bad thing that will haunt them for life. The key is for the child to seek and receive treatment as early as possible to help them get back to enjoying all life has to offer.

The best way for parents to help children overcome anxiety is to be a good listener. Parents should actively try to understand the source of the child’s concern and encourage them toward a positive resolution. The parent’s job is not to eliminate the source of the concern, but to provide the child with the tools they need to learn to manage it. Children must have a safe place to share their fears without judgment.

Your child’s health is our top priority. If your child is suffering from chronic anxiety, please schedule an appointment with their pediatrician. Together, we can work to help them overcome the sources of their worries.