Counseling for Anxious Kids: What is Anxiety and Does My Child Have It?
Often in counseling for anxious kids and teens in Illinois, I hear many different issues parents are dealing with in their anxious kids. These include irrational fears of getting sick or phobias of germs or the dark may be showing up more frequently in your child. Complaints of stomach aches and headaches when getting ready for school in the mornings might also be increasing.
Or perhaps it’s high levels of stress and irritation in your teen stemming from a mix of perfectionism and procrastination. You might also notice your child isolating themselves socially for fear of being embarrassed, judged, or rejected by peers and teachers.
Are these behaviors just a “phase” in your child’s development or should you be concerned as a parent?
Let’s take a deeper dive into anxiety in kids to gain some understanding.
What is Anxiety?
In short, anxiety in kids is an uncomfortable feeling of nervousness or worry about something that is happening or might happen in the future. It is also often characterized by bodily symptoms.
Sadly, anxiety among our youth has been rising steadily.
- 7.1 % of children (4.4 million) have a diagnosed anxiety disorder. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- 31.9% of adolescents are estimated to have an anxiety disorder. (National Institute of Mental Health)
- Anxiety disorders in kids and teens have gone up 20% in the last 10 years. (National Institutes of Health)
It’s important to note that just because your child is showing signs of anxiety doesn’t mean they have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety on some level is normal, right? We all get anxious from time to time given life situations and circumstances. It’s part of life.
If your child is having a couple of days here or there, as distressing as that may feel, it’s normal.
Where it gets problematic and potentially morphs into a full-blown anxiety disorder is when the anxiety interferes with daily functioning. In other words, it’s debilitating, affects multiple areas of life and for an extended period of time.
Why Do Anxiety Disorders Develop?
It’s not entirely clear what causes anxiety disorders, however, it’s likely a combination of genetic, environmental, societal, and brain/biological factors.
We know that anxiety disorders can run in families, suggesting that a combination of genes and environmental stresses can produce the disorders.
But that doesn’t mean you did anything to cause your child’s anxiety. Anxiety is complex and can have multiple sources and triggers. It’s usually a combination of things.
What are the Most Common Reasons for Anxiety in Kids and Teens?
There are 6 main types of anxiety disorders – Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Phobias, Agoraphobia, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Separation Anxiety Disorder
Let’s take a look at the three most common forms of anxiety disorders in kids and teens that I work within counseling for anxious kids.
Generalized anxiety disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things. It’s the most common disorder among anxiety disorders.
A certain amount of anxiety is normal in a child’s healthy development. Brief separation anxiety and fears of the dark, strangers, loud noises, or storms are all common worries children may experience as they grow and mature.
However, children with generalized anxiety often anticipate disaster or worst-case scenarios.
They may recognize their anxiety is exaggerated and still experience great difficulty controlling or managing it.
If your child starts to experience more consistent anxiety across a range of areas such as school, friends, family, health, and sports, it may be possible that they’re experiencing a generalized anxiety disorder.
Children struggling with generalized anxiety disorder can sometimes be quiet, shy, and cautious. They may be very compliant and eager to please adults.
On the other hand, anxious kids and teens may “act out” with tantrums, crying, avoidance, and disobedience. These behaviors may be misinterpreted as oppositional and “difficult” when they are actually anxiety-related.
An adjustment disorder will almost always affect a child’s social or academic functioning. Often in counseling for anxious kids, I notice a decline in grades, trouble maintaining friendships, or an unwillingness to go to school are a few examples.
Adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood
While not an anxiety disorder per se, an adjustment disorder is a stress-related condition that causes anxiety.
With an adjustment disorder, your child experiences more stress than would normally be expected in response to a stressful or unexpected event. And stress typically causes significant problems in their relationships or at school.
The stressful situation may be a one-time event, like moving, changing schools, and the death of a pet. Or it could result from an ongoing stressful situation, such as family tension due to divorce or being bullied repeatedly at school.
Not all children who experience stressful events develop adjustment disorders, however. And what one child considers stressful might not be a big deal to another.
A strong support system and healthy coping skills may serve as protective factors that reduce the chances a child will develop an adjustment disorder.
Social anxiety disorder
Social anxiety disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that causes extreme fear in social settings. It includes an intense and persistent fear of judgment, embarrassment, humiliation, or rejection from others.
Anxious kids and teens with this disorder have trouble talking to people, meeting new people, and attending social gatherings. They may understand that their fears are irrational or unreasonable but feel powerless to overcome them.
Although most teenagers go through periods of normal anxiety related to the changes that go along with adolescence, those with social anxiety disorder experience fear that is out of proportion to the situations that they face.
It’s important to point out that social anxiety is different from shyness. Shyness is usually short-term and doesn’t disrupt one’s life. Social anxiety is persistent and debilitating. It can affect one’s ability to:
- attend school
- develop close relationships with people outside of the family
Social anxiety disorder in children and teens may appear different than in adults.
With anxiety in kids, they might cling to you, have a tantrum when forced into a social situation, refuse to play with other kids, cry, or complain of an upset stomach or other physical problems.
In contrast, a teen with anxiety disorder may avoid group gatherings altogether or show little interest in having friends.
What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?
Anxiety symptoms can vary widely depending on the age of your child and their situation. Here are the more common ones I see in counseling for anxious kids and teens:
Symptoms of anxiety in kids:
- reading aloud or answering questions in class
- talking to other kids
- being in front of the class
- speaking to adults
- musical or athletic performance activities
- ordering food in a restaurant
- attending birthday parties
- having friends visit
- Worry about being judged by others
- Refusal to participate in activities or school
- Physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, and nausea.
Symptoms of anxiety in teens:
Tend to be:
- overly concerned about negative evaluation
- uncomfortable in the spotlight
- begin uncomfortable in a group setting
- Ask the teacher for help
- Walk into class late
- Start or participate in conversations
- Ask others to get together
- Call others
- Sit alone in the library or cafeteria
- Keep to themselves
- Become more withdrawn if encouraged to talk
- Fear being embarrassed or humiliated
- Cross their arms
- Keep their head down
- Display few facial expressions
- Have nervous habits such as hair twirling or fidgeting
- Potentially do poorly in school
- Don’t raise their hand in class
- Avoid classmates outside class
- Fear performing in front of others/public speaking
- May refuse to go to school or drop out
- Have few friends
- Avoid eye contact
- Fear speaking up in class
- Speak softly or mumble
- Appear to always be “on the fringes”
- Reveal little about themselves when talking to others
How Can Parents Help their Kids and Teens with Anxiety?
The most important thing you can do as a parent to help your child with anxiety is to love and support them unconditionally. In counseling for anxious kids and teens, these are some of the questions I may ask. If you do nothing else, just knowing that you’re in their corner will make a world of difference.
Here are some additional useful tips:
Tip #1 – Ask questions from a place of genuine concern.
Here are some examples:
- Can you tell me what you’re experiencing in your body when you get anxious?
- When have you felt this way before?
- What can you think of that might help with your anxiety?
- Or what can I do to help you?
Tip #2 – Help your child find solutions, but let them lead.
Your job as a parent is to help your child “figure it out” while they’re still in your home.
Be available when they ask for help. Your goal should be to help them find solutions they can implement on their own.
Validate your child with statements such as:
- I’m sorry. It sounds like it was a tough day.
- That must have been hard to deal with.
- Sounds like you managed that situation really well.
Tip #3 – Ask questions that encourage your child to problem-solve.
Your questions should get them thinking about ways that will help them work through a tough situation. Here are some examples:
- How do you want to handle this?
- What might you do next?
- Tell me what options you have in this situation.
- What’s one thing I can help you with?
Tip #4 – Build your child’s confidence and resilience.
You can also remind your child of times in the past when they’ve been able to handle similar anxiety-producing moments.
- Where did that (strength, courage, perseverance, assertiveness, etc.) come from?
- How were you able to accomplish it?
- What inside of you allowed you to do that?
- How might you use those same strengths in this current situation?
How Do You Know When it’s Time to Begin Counseling for Anxious Kids?
If your child’s anxiety is debilitating and affects multiple areas of their life for an extended period of time, it’s definitely time to bring in an expert who can work directly with your child.
Even before that step, however, I always recommend having your pediatrician examine your child to make sure there is no underlying medical condition. Or side effects from medication causing the anxiety. If no obvious physical condition is found, then finding an online therapist in Illinois or Chicago, IL to help your child work through their anxiety is the next and best step.
Begin Online Counseling for Anxious Kids in Illinois, Chicago, or Riverside, IL Today!
If your child has been struggling with anxiety, please know that there is hope! Anxiety is highly treatable and online anxiety treatment at Briefly Counseling can help.
And anxious kids and teens alike love being able to receive online counseling in Illinois from the comfort and privacy of their own home. Studies have consistently proven that online therapy delivers equal results to in-office counseling.
- Click on the Schedule an Appointment button.
- Select a day and time in my online calendar
- Or learn about me, your caring online therapist
- Watch your child gain confidence and feel better
Helena Madsen, MA, LCPC is the founder of Briefly Counseling. I specialize in providing online short-term anxiety treatment for online counseling for anxious kids and online counseling for anxious teens ages 7 – 19 as well as online Christian counseling.
I provide all services via online therapy in Illinois. Whether you’re in Naperville, Chicago, Champaign, Rockford, Libertyville, or Crystal Lake, I can help you. Schedule your appointment or consultation today. I look forward to working with your child to quickly and effectively help them in activating their strengths, resources, and resilience, in order to live with confidence and hope.