Many people know the feeling of anxiety. What most people do not know is that children feel anxiety, too. Many parents think that their child is too young to struggle with anxiety, but the truth is, about 20 percent of children suffer from some form of anxiety disorder. It is normal even for children to worry about things occasionally, but it creates cause for concern when it often interferes with school or their growth and development.
“It can cause a lot of disruption in what’s normal for them — going to school, dealing with peers, and even dealing with difficulties at home,” said Margaret Jessop, licensed psychologist.
Jessop created a program that deals with child anxiety called “Hornets and Hippos: Taking an African Safari Through Your Brain.” She plans to host a workshop this weekend, pleased with the results the program has generated in earlier events.
“What makes this program different is I’ve integrated brain science, and mindfulness in helping children deal with anxiety,” said Jessop.
The program shows children how the brain works on a level that is easy to understand and not overwhelming or scary. Making education on child anxiety fun and exciting helps children identify feelings of anxiety and feel more comfortable communicating them. Dr. Jessop explains each part of the brain with comparisons to, well, hornets and hippos.
“The hornet is the amygdala. We each have one on each side of the brain. It is a very small part of the brain where it is the fight or flight response. It triggers and cascades through the body. The hippo is the hippocampus, which is right next to the amygdala, and it’s a very important part of the brain where we learn and take in that context around us and move that into long-term memory,” she said.
Dr. Jessop’s program targets kids in the 6-12 age groups, and it teaches both parents and children skills to help cope with the overwhelming feelings child anxiety causes.
Dr. Stephen Carbone, BeyondBlue’s research and policy leader, mentions school as a major trigger in child anxiety.
“Of course not many children are looking forward to starting school for the year. But it’s when it’s a daily fight to even get to school that it becomes an issue,” Dr. Carbone said.
Dr. Carbone’s research in BeyondBlue suggests that any separation from the parents creates some anxiety in a child. The stresses from school add to the anxiety, and make school a scary place for some children. The Department of Health released a survey that says as many as five percent of 4- to 11-year-olds suffered from a form of separation anxiety disorder last year.
“They can be anxious about being separated from their mum and dad, be worried no one’s going to pick them up from school, that they’ll get put in classes with mean teachers or make a mistake in front of other children,” said clinical psychologist Emily Cale.
Common sources of child anxiety for 2- to 4-year-olds are loud noises, large objects, new people or changes in your household. As the child grows, their fears change, and the levels of anxiety increase. Children in junior high and high school start worrying about injury, rejection, their future, and even death.
Symptoms of child anxiety, for any age group, include disturbed sleep patterns, excessive crankiness, acting out in school and at home, grades slipping and loss of interest in normal activities.
No matter what the age of the child dealing with feelings of anxiety, it is crucial to talk with them about those feelings. Help them discern the difference between rational and irrational fear. Do not minimize their concerns, but assure them that everything is fine and that you are there to help them.
Parents can now evaluate the anxiety levels and the risk of anxiety disorder in their children with online anxiety tests. You can try this free child anxiety test at Advanced Psychology website. The results of this test will indicate whether professional help is needed.
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