Recently, 9-year-old Joseph has been screaming whenever his parents try to leave him at home with the babysitter. Furthermore, Joseph’s parents realize that Joseph will not leave them alone in the house! If his parents go upstairs, Joseph will run upstairs after them. If his parents go downstairs, Joseph will rush downstairs and follow them in and out of each room. Joseph’s parents have tried to bribe him with all kinds of presents and rewards, but nothing has worked. They reach out to their pediatrician who suggests that they locate a child therapist who is specifically trained in handling anxiety in children. However, Joseph’s parents are still hesitant to admit that there is a problem. Maybe this will pass and go away? Does our son, Joseph really have anxiety?
Anxiety in children can manifest itself in different ways. Children can develop fears that occur over time or fears can seem to spontaneously “pop up.”Adjustments, transitions and family changes can trigger anxiety in children. Additionally, witnessing something scary or hearing of a scary event can also trigger some anxiety. What are some of the common signs of childhood anxiety?
Clinginess. Consider the example of a child who suddenly does not want to leave her Mommy alone. She had always been a well adjusted child and had never had problems separating from Mommy.
Behavioral Outbursts. As children lack the emotional vocabulary to express their feelings, they will often utilize their behavior as a “hidden mask” for their feelings.
Avoidance. Avoidance is probably the number one indicator that a child may be presenting with some anxiety. In children, avoidance may manifest itself in any of the following reactions:
Appearing ‘frozen’ when confronted with a scary thought or fear
Becoming overly clingy to a primary caretaker
Having tantrums or behavioral difficulties.
Refusal to attend school, camp or any uncomfortable social situation.
Repeated questioning to ensure lack of contact/interaction with the fear.
Need for consistent reassurance and reinforcement that “nothing is wrong”
It is important to point out that many children who present with some anxiety may be performing well in school and be well adjusted socially. The fear, or the anxious thoughts that they are having do not necessarily have a crippling effect on their entire day. Some children may be able to avoid their fear without really letting it impact on their day. However, as time progresses, unsettling thoughts and fears become harder and harder to remove if not dealt with in an appropriate fashion. In my next article, I will offer some practical guidance to parents on how to help parents assist their children with fears, scary thoughts and anxiety.
Mark Staum, LCSW is the school therapist for the PTACH program _ MTA. He maintains a local private practice in Teaneck, NJ, where he sees children, adolescents, young adults and families. For questions or comments about this article, please contact mstaumlcsw_gmail.com . To learn more about Mark, please email me or feel free to look at my web site, www.markstaum.com.
By Mark Staum, LCSW