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How to Recognize Anxiety in Children and Adolescents

by Dr Jeannette Kavanagh

Problems with a too-high level anxiety can start in childhood with children and adolescents worrying to a greater extent than their peers about all sorts of things. Some behaviors are an indication of a fussy and over tidy child. When we go just a little bit over fussiness and we have entered the realm of an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety in childhood is obvious when children and adolescents worry to a greater extent than their peers about school performance, sporting prowess, their appearance and their popularity. If the child has grown up with overly anxious parents, the tendency will be exacerbated. Even quite laid back, relaxed, children can become tense and anxious adolescents if their parents transmit their own fears and anxieties about their performance to their children on a regular basis.

Children who are growing up in a fairly relaxed family atmosphere can simply come across as ideal students, and parents may even be counting their blessings that their son or daughter does her/his home work without being nagged about it. The highly anxious child will be a perfectionist and s/he will require an excessive amount of reassurance about their performance. Although we all love our children to come home with an A grade, it is vital to watch for signs of anxiety accompanying their school work. A child who frets and even cries about an assignment in elementary (primary) school, cannot automatically be diagnosed as having generalised anxiety or indeed, any anxiety problems. However, it is good for parents to monitor those sorts of reactions. Children and adolescents with generalised anxiety may also worry about being punctual, their appearance, or impending catastrophes such as earthquakes, floods, meteors flying to Earth and nuclear war.

Obsessive Thoughts And Compulsive Behaviors

If you notice that your child is excessively neat - send her or him to my place. I jest of course because we accept our children even when they missed out on the tidy gene. However, excessive concern about the tidiness of one's room, or how clothes are arranged in a drawer, these are signals that say two things. First, you just happen to have a tidy and neat child. Secondly, the degree to which they are concerned about tidiness will let you know whether or not that often sought-after trait is actually a sign of their underlying anxiety. This article is not about obsessive compulsive disorder as it's known. But it is important to mention that all obsessive thoughts and compulsive or ritualistic behaviours have their base in anxiety. Keeping those socks exactly 2.5cms (1 inch) from each other, having all the white shirts together, making and re-making the bed; those behaviours are used to keep the underlying feeling of anxiety at bay.

Signs Of Anxiety In Children

In many ways, it's easier to diagnose anxiety in children than in adults because they haven't learned yet to censor themselves. If they feel anxious about giving a talk at school, or even about going to school, children will communicate that to their parents or carers. In fact, many anxiety prone children will communicate their fears in very clear and sometimes alarming ways. The important thing for those around the child or adolescent with anxiety is for us to be supportive without being enabling. By that I mean that as a parent or older sibling, or friend, we must treat with respect the very real fear that the child is expressing. The injunction to "snap out of it" or the advice that "there's nothing to be afraid of, you goose" might make you feel alright, but it will only make the anxious person more fear-filled. They will be less likely to open up to you when and if their anxiety escalates. So please don't trivialise the fears. As for enabling some parents when faced with an obviously anxious child begin to over-protect them. They keep the child away from school camps and sometimes even from school.

Keep A Diary For Three Months

On the one hand most of you can readily diagnose whether or not your child's anxiety switch is on overload. It's the subtlety of some behaviors that can allow anxiety to go undiagnosed and untreated for years. Most of my counseling clients talk about being anxious at school and about being more generally anxious in their childhood. Yet none of them was treated for anxiety. While I certainly don't want to suggest that the child who expresses worry and apprehension about delivering a talk to the class has anxiety and needs treatment, it might be interesting for you to keep a little diary of how your child reacts in other situations. If it's a one-off very common fear of public speaking, your diary will remain blank. If not, you'll have good material to discuss with a therapist if you decide to make that intervention.

Having said that many of my counseling clients were anxious children, it is also important to say that anxious children do grow out of their anxiety in the vast number of cases.

See Also:

What is Anxiety and How to Cope
Anxiety is a feeling that everyone experiences at some time throughout our lives. It is our natural reaction to situations we find threatening. Anxiety, in itself, is actually a positive emotion. However, in some people, their levels of anxiety becomes overwhelming and can prevent them from living a normal, healthy life. Statistics show that around one in ten people will experience symptoms of anxiety at some point in their lives.

For a very comprehensive look at the Generalized anxiety disorder and common sense ways to handle it, please visit Anxiety Infocenter.

Making Time For Your Family
When it comes to your new career plan, you may find you have even less time for yourself and your family-especially if you have to continue to work while you are pursuing the new goals you have set for yourself. So in order to help balance things out, you may need to get creative.

Adolescent Anger Management Ideas To Aid Both Parent And Child
Puberty can be extremely hard for both genders. On occasion, events around an adolescent make them very mad. Several adolescents are clueless when it comes to dealing with their anger in a positive manner. Therefore, they strike out at those who matter most to them.

About The Author:

Copyright (c) 2010 Dr Jeannette Kavanagh

Dr Jeannette Kavanagh has a counseling and coaching Practice in Melbourne Australia, to help people find their unique solutions to anxiety and panic attacks. For over two decades, Jeannette has helped thousands of people overcome anxiety and panic attacks. Visit her website to sign up for a FREE MP3

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