My daughter has been complaining about stomachaches. At first it seemed she was saying she was sick so she could stay home and play Minecraft. The girl is addicted. But after having a talk about fibbing, she still complained every few days. I took her to the doctor, and after ruling common ailments out, the doctor concluded it was stress and anxiety. Not surprising given my severe anxiety disorder.
After the appointment I called my parents to fill them in. My concerned dad asked what is she stressed about? It’s a fair question, she’s not even seven yet. I thought about it and said it’s probably from starting a new school and not knowing anyone in her class. She’s been at the JCC preschool since she was two so it has certainly been an adjustment. Then it hit me — you don’t have to have stress to have anxiety. I could have the best day of my life and still have anxiety, and I don’t think it’s any different for children who experience anxiety. Unfortunately, my daughter might have anxiety even as an adult. I hope not, but if she does, at least she has a mother who has experienced it all when it comes to anxiety and depression.
I know what you’re thinking — isn’t she a little young to have anxiety? — but it’s more common than you think and the number of children with anxiety and/or depression is increasing each year. No doubt it will be exponential when data is collected for 2020 and 2021 because of Covid. The most recent numbers show that 7 percent of children aged 3 to 17 years (about 4.4 million) have been diagnosed with anxiety. And 3.2 percent of children aged 3 to 17 (about 1.9 million) have been diagnosed with depression, according to the CDC.
Anxiety in children manifests in different ways than in adults. Here’s what to look for if you think your child could have anxiety:
- Being very afraid when away from parents (separation anxiety)
- Having extreme fear about a specific thing or situation, such as dogs, insects, or going to the doctor (phobias)
- Being very afraid of school and other places where there are people (social anxiety)
- Being very worried about the future and about bad things happening (general anxiety)
- Having repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear that come with symptoms like heart pounding, having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty (panic disorder)
Something I noticed that’s not on the list is intrusive thoughts. When I was young (about 12), I would have these grim and scary thoughts invade my brain, such as you’re going to die, your family is going to die, you’re worthless, etc. I didn’t realize that wasn’t normal, so I never spoke up. But if is DEFINITELY not normal.
It’s helpful that I’ve experienced stuff like that, so I know what to look for, but that’s also why I’m sharing with you now. Everybody is different and one child’s anxiety might look different than what’s generally written about.
If you think your kids are struggling, contact your pediatrician. Ask about therapy, research methods of coping, be open-minded and withhold judgement. It’s scary enough to deal with all this, much less a parent who brushes you off or doesn’t make an effort to understand what’s going on.
Other things to know:
- An estimated 31.9 percent of adolescents had any anxiety disorder (National Institute of Mental Health)
- Anxiety disorders affect more girls than boys
- 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60 percent of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment, according to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report.
- Anxiety disorders are treatable
Early intervention is key. Had I had help when I was younger, I believe my life would be different. Not that I blame anyone for what’s happened to me, but the coping mechanisms I adopted were unhealthy ones and only added to my depression and anxiety (like binge eating).
If you have any questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay in the light, friends.