Extra-curricular activities, demands from the environment, and absent parents can cause stress for the child. In this article, we present the most effective psychological treatments for anxiety disorders in childhood.
Fear is an emotion that is part of the normal development of each individual; it is usually of moderate intensity and tends to fade over time. However, in childhood, negative emotions related to fear can be maladaptive and cause anxiety. Knowing what anxiety treatment involves in your child can be of great help.
Anxiety disorders in childhood show data that should not be overlooked: about 18% of children suffer from anxiety. The most frequent disorders are separation anxiety, especially in children under the age of 12, specific phobia, and generalized anxiety.
On the other hand, anxiety disorders in children are more common in women and are usually related to depression.
Symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety generates symptoms that interfere with the child’s daily life, negatively affecting different contexts: school, family, and social. The most frequent physical symptoms are tachycardia, headache, intestinal disturbances, nausea, and sleep disturbances.
Symptoms of anxiety are accompanied by a strong preoccupation with various situations that often result in avoidance and escape behaviors. These behaviors are very difficult for parents to manage because they generate negative reinforcements.
Parents often give in to the avoidance of the child, thereby exacerbating the problem. On the other hand, let’s see what the treatment of anxiety in the child consists of.
Treatment of anxiety in the child
There are several treatments to treat anxiety in children. First of all, it is advisable to consult a psychologist, as the psychological intervention is free of side effects and has proven to be very effective.
Drug therapy should only be considered if psychological therapy has failed or if anxiety is excessively disabling.
In this case, priority must be given to antidepressants, which impair cognitive processes such as memory and learning less than anxiolytics. It is also possible to use benzodiazepines, useful for calming anxiety in association with appropriate behavioral measures.
As for cognitive-behavioral therapy, multiple treatments are recommended, which include several strategies. Here are the most useful ones:
- Relaxation exercises. Most used for generalized and separation anxiety. They have two phases: In the first, the child’s minimum ability to perform the exercise is verified. These are standing still for 5 seconds, maintaining eye contact for 5 seconds, demonstrating imitation skills, and following simple instructions.
Once the child is shown to be able to cope, he will be explained how anxiety works and he will be taught relaxation techniques. These can be of various types: infant massage, relaxation games (robot-rag doll), and techniques based on imagination in which stories are told, the child stiffens a part of the body and then relaxes it.
- Self-instructions. The child learns to replace the cognitive components that generate anxiety with coping verbalizations.
Kendall’s Coping Cat Program (“The Cat That Gets It Alone”). It is a cognitive-behavioral therapy that consists of two parts. In the first, the child learns to recognize the symptoms and thoughts related to anxiety and develops a coping plan (“FEAR” Plan).
Parents are taught to reinforce coping behaviors and eliminate grievances and blame. In the second phase, the skills learned are put into action through imaginative and live exposure to more feared situations.
Conclusions on the treatment of anxiety in the child
Psychological treatments have been shown to be very effective in dealing with anxiety in children and adolescents. However, it is always best to prevent anxiety disorder.
Sometimes children are subjected to excessive stress: family ups and downs, absence of parents, school or extracurricular activities are some factors that contribute to the development of an anxiety disorder.
It is essential that parents learn to scale their expectations by setting limits based on simple, realistic, and correctly formulated requests.
Reducing expectations of the child and setting concrete and stable limits offer safety. On the other hand, it is essential to dedicate quality time to the child to play together, look after him or listen to him.
In this regard, parents should avoid using cell phones, talking about work problems, and arguing with each other in the presence of their children.
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