It is completely heartbreaking (and to be fair, a little frustrating) when your child is inconsolable because they lack the words to express what ails them or what they desire.
If you knew, you could address it, right? When our children were infants, we went through the check list: Is he wet? Is it meal time? Is he gassy? Is he tired? etc. As their vocabulary increases, they can tell you whatâ€™s wrong or what they need. Instead of their grunts and groans and our second guessing, we hear, â€œmore grapesâ€ or â€œI have a tummy acheâ€. Itâ€™s wonderful!
My three year old has an extensive vocabulary, but it is devastating to visibly see anxiety and fear getting the best of him. He doesnâ€™t have the words to describe those feelings and we are struggling to calm him through a very scary (to him) situation: fire alarms.
For your child, it may be dogs, strangers, separation anxiety, or something else. Either way, it’s disheartening and begs the question: How do you know as a parent when to really worry about your child’s worries?
The difference between normal worry and an anxiety disorder is severity. Although feeling anxious is a natural reaction to stressful or dangerous situations, a child may need help if his anxiety is out of proportion, if it persists, or if it interferes with his life and healthy development.
The 5 most common signs of childhood anxiety are:
- Not sleeping well.
- Crying for more than is usual for them.
- Inventing illnesses.
- Not wanting to eat.
- Throwing tantrums.
The thing to remember is that rarely a month (or week) will go by in a child’s life when they won’t be suffering from at least one of these signs.
Many children will throw a tantrum just in order to try and get their own way. That on its own does not mean that the child is suffering from childhood anxiety. It is when these things start to occur on an overly regular basis and in combination that parents and other care takers should start to take more notice and begin to investigate what exactly is the cause of these types of worries.
According to the the Child Mind Institute, the first step in seeking help for a child is an evaluation. The clinician you see should have diagnostic expertise and should explain the sources of information she’s going to use.
It’s a good idea to keep track of the behaviors that worry you and when they occur, to help identify possible triggers. A brief office visit with your child is not sufficient for a diagnosis.
In choosing a professional to treat your child, it’s best to find someone trained to work with children — a board certified child and adolescent psychiatrist, or a licensed psychologist. The clinician should explain clearly what a therapy entails, what it’s effective for, why he recommends it, and the extent of his training and experience with it.
For a list of child and adolescent psychiatrists around the country, visit AACAP.org.
For more on signs of childhood psychiatric and learning disorders, the latest treatments, and strategies for parenting anxious kids, visit childmind.org.
Photo credit: McBeth