Do Children Get Anxiety?
Statistics show that one in eight children in America suffers from anxiety, and yet, I am not sure that the labeling is correct. By labeling, I mean saying that it is ‘anxiety.’
In working with more and more adults who suffer from this so-called ‘anxiety,’ the findings show that their anxiousness (a feeling), and one of many that they experience, is all because they are afraid to feel; afraid to be in touch with the real emotion they are feeling in any given moment.
And one thing to consider is that children come into this life, not necessarily knowing HOW to manage or deal with an ‘emotion,’ the shift they notice happens in their body. They feel it and have no point of reference on how to respond.
Part of their journey, and ours as a parent, is to support them and help them understand what they are feeling, and also explore what that means and why they are feeling it. So, let’s explore some of the common types of anxiety and see what may be behind them.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is described as excessive worry and can be caused by concern about school performance, friendships, or family relationships. So, what’s the worry here possibly about? Maybe it’s because they are concerned about how people see them, what they think of them, or that they may not be liked.
Having these thoughts can likely create feelings of fear, sadness, and hurt. And what if the child feels all of those emotions intensely, are they going to know how to manage them? The answer, depending on the age of the child, of course, is likely ‘No.’
Children learn from their parents. They watch you and mimic you. How you handle your emotions will be something they will be noticing and picking up for themselves. If you struggle with your emotions, or like a lot of parents haven’t thought you are allowed to feel, then this will be what your child copies.
Let’s look at another type of anxiety that a child might experience, and that is Separation Anxiety. This ‘anxiety’ is created, according to experts, “if they have excessive fear or anxiety about being separated from caregivers” or “if they frequently worry about parents dying or becoming separated from them.”
Their reaction may be to refuse to go to school, which naturally you would if you fear that going will mean you won’t see your parents again. Other reactions can include having headaches or nausea, which are also great ways to get the attention you are wanting from your parents while being able to stay home with them, so you can ensure that they don’t leave you.
Notice how it is the reaction to the child’s thoughts that is driving this so-called ‘anxiety.’ And yet, what is happening is the child has a thought they believe strongly to turn it into a belief. They are reacting to that belief which is the emotional response of fear or flight. Having this reaction then leads them to do other things to counter what they are believing. Is this really ‘anxiety’ or a child believing a thought so strongly that they are having a reaction to it?
Other Types of Anxiety:
There are other types of anxiety which your child may be diagnosed with, Selective Mutism, Selective Phobia, OCD, Panic Disorder, and Social Anxiety Disorder. Each of these anxiety disorders exists for a specific reason.
Children have a fear of speaking in specific situations or with specific groups of people. Notice again the word fear. For whatever reason they have in their mind, it is not okay for them to speak in front of this group of people. They may feel overwhelmed at the thought of speaking in front of the group because of their fear of what the group will think of them or what they might say. The fear is so overwhelming that they don’t know how to manage it. That’s all. That doesn’t need to be labeled anxiety.
These are associated with fear of ‘whatever the specific phobia is,’ spiders or heights, for example. Interesting that the word ‘fear’ has come up yet again. Maybe anxiety is nothing more than overwhelming fear. And fear is generated from thinking into the future and imagining what is going to happen when or if.
“OCD is characterized by unwanted and intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and feeling compelled to repeatedly perform rituals and routines (compulsions) to try and ease anxiety.” This is how experts describe OCD. I would like you to consider it from a different perspective. What if your child was so afraid of not doing things right, or of not having done something, and their strong fear is about getting into trouble? What if that was the reason for OCD? Again, what occurs, in terms of their reaction, is a response to what they are thinking. Something that may not even be true.
Panic is usually caused by fear. Your child may be fearful of not being able to breathe or of dying. These thoughts can create an extreme emotional reaction.
It’s interesting to note the dictionary definition of anxiety “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.”
In conclusion, I would suggest then that children do not suffer from ‘anxiety,’ but rather, from the fear of what they think is going to happen, and their emotional response to that may be fear, sadness, hurt, or any other labeled emotions.
Why label it as anxiety, when it is simply the experiencing of emotions?