When children cannot overcome the fears and anxiety common to young children, or when they are so afraid that it prevents them from going to school, playing sports, or generally doing all their daily activities, they may have an anxiety disorder.
In elementary school children, mild to moderate levels of anxiety and distress may occur during important periods such as starting school, moving to a new place, and other stressful situations.
Types of anxiety experienced by school children
Separation anxiety disorder: This anxiety is caused by separation from parents or leaving home. In this case, children do not want to participate in activities outside the home and this may cause problems with their regularity at school.
Voluntary or voluntary silence disorder: This is a condition where the child is persistently silent in situations such as school where he is expected to speak. Self-imposed silence is not a communication disorder and has nothing to do with the child’s gentleness or inability to speak.
Specific phobias (special fears): It is an extreme or unreasonable feeling of fear or anxiety at the sight of a particular animal, object, activity, or situation. This fear causes severe distress and can prevent children from participating in normal daily activities.
social phobia: It is a constant fear of social situations or encountering unfamiliar people. In this type of disorder, the child feels that he or she is being examined. Children with social phobia worry that they will behave in an embarrassing and humiliating manner, and this can lead to panic attacks. Children avoid situations that cause this distress, or they participate in them with great anxiety and distress.
Panic disorder often begins in older children and adults: Panic disorder is a recurring fear of death or imminent danger, followed by physical symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, a feeling of suffocation, and sweating.
Fear of enclosed spaces or fear of open spaces: Agoraphobia is intense fear or anxiety in various situations where escape may be difficult or panic-like symptoms occur. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious mental health problems such as depression, substance abuse, and suicide.
Generalized anxiety disorder: It is excessive worry and anxiety (great anticipation) about many events or activities (such as performance at work or school).
How does anxiety affect children?
Anxiety and its effect on children’s feelings can affect their thinking. They understand the fear or danger they are worried about and that fear is too much for them to handle. Thinking about the situation causes more anxiety and stress.
Children with anxiety may devise their own strategies to try to deal with traumatic situations. This often involves trying to get away from the situation or asking parents or other adults to help them.
Although this is done in the short term, avoiding the feared situation makes the person feel anxious and unable to manage it. As a result, they find it more difficult to deal with everyday stressors at home, at school, and in social settings.
Anxiety can also lead to physical symptoms such as insomnia, diarrhea, stomachache, and headaches (sometimes called psychosomatic disorders). Other symptoms may include irritability, difficulty concentrating, and fatigue.
What are the signs and symptoms of anxiety?
Parents or teachers may notice that a child is anxious at school age. For example, a child may:
- Avoid going to school
- He cries
- Act fearful or upset
- Refrain from talking or doing things
Children with anxiety also experience symptoms that others cannot see. This can make them feel afraid, anxious, or angry.
These symptoms can also affect their bodies:
- They may feel shaky and short of breath.
- They may have a heartache. Their faces also get hot, their hands shiver, their mouths dry and their heartbeats rapid.
These physical reactions are called the “fight or flight” response. It is the body’s natural response to danger and was created to protect us from danger. The fight response triggers the release of natural chemicals in the body.
But in the case of anxiety disorders, the “fight or flight” response is more active than usual, in other words, it occurs when there is no real danger present.
Strategies for supporting anxious children at school
When children have anxious thoughts or feelings, adults should help the child control their child’s anxiety.
If kids are afraid of dogs, it makes sense to keep dogs away from kids… right?
But this is not true! Because by helping children avoid facing fearful situations, you reinforce and increase their anxiety. They also miss out on opportunities to develop coping skills and prove to themselves that they can never handle this fear and anxiety. Yet the most important way to control children’s anxiety is to confront them with their fear. But this should be done gradually and under the supervision of a psychologist.
1- Start gradually
Encourage your child to breathe slowly and deeply to calm the physical effects of anxiety. Hold the breath in your chest for three seconds, hold it for three seconds, and then exhale for three minutes. Once the child has calmed down a bit, you can talk to him about his fears.
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2- Set a time in the day to confront anxiety
Setting a specific time to deal with fears can prevent anxious thoughts from taking over. Try designating a time of the day called “worry time” and encourage children to draw or write anything that is bothering them. You can make the activity more interesting by decorating a Worry Box or building a Worry Wall. When the time is up (after 10-15 minutes) put the fears in a closed box or remove them from the wall and say goodbye to them.
3- Do not mock your child for his fears
Never make fun of your child, especially in front of friends or family. Sometimes parents or older siblings make fun of the child to encourage him to face his fears, while this method has the opposite effect. So that it not only increases the child’s resistance to solving his problem, but also makes him shy away from talking to you about his feelings and avoids confronting them.
4- Encourage the child to think positively
Children with anxiety usually experience the worst kind of anxiety in any situation. You can help children think positively in the following ways:
- Remember times in the past when they dealt with similar issues and did well.
- Help children challenge their fearful thoughts with facts and evidence.
- Make a plan and teach them what to do if things don’t go their way.
5-Strengthen your child’s self-confidence
Anxious children often worry about their mistakes or lack confidence. This can cause them to avoid situations or activities. Encourage your child to try new things and enjoy success or failure.
6- Teach your child to deal with fear
Just teach your child how to deal with his emotions. Tell him how he can cope when he’s anxious or stressed. For example, say, “This sounds a little scary, but I’ll do it.”
7- Help your child do things
Think about what you can do to control your child’s fear. For example, if your child is afraid of sleeping alone, stay with him for a while and close the doors and windows.
8- Be a pioneer in scary things
Many children worry about death, war, terrorism, or things they see on the news. This is really normal. Talk to her about her concerns and answer any questions honestly. Don’t hide the facts and try to be honest with him.
9- Pay attention to your behavior
Children receive different signals from the adults in their lives, so think carefully about your words and actions. An overly conservative family can inadvertently reinforce children’s fears and send them the message that the world is a dangerous place and that everything will hurt you.
Likewise, parents who control their children a lot and help them in everything unconsciously tell their children that they cannot do anything without the support of adults.
10- Get help from a psychologist or doctor
If your child’s fears are seriously affecting his life and none of these methods help reduce his anxiety, it may be time to talk to your doctor.
They can suggest a treatment program, such as counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy, that can help your little one change the way they think.