How does anxiety affect children?

This article was originally published on Facebook as part of PCC's 2014 Children's Mental Health Week campaign. We also published articles about child and youth depression and behavioural challenges, which are available to read on our website. 

Imagine yourself standing backstage at a concert. On the other side of the curtain is a full-house of strangers, waiting for the show to begin – your show. You wait quietly in the wings, your hands clammy with sweat, your heart pounding in your chest and your stomach humming like you just swallowed the entire Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory whole. You’re nervous because you’re about to perform for an audience of thousands, but you know your songs by heart and you know that once the music starts, the sweating, heart pounding and stomach fluttering will cease and you’ll be able to enjoy yourself. 

In the situation we’ve just described, feeling a little nervous is normal. But imagine you are a child who experiences those exact same physical feelings every morning before school, or when the teacher calls for volunteers to solve a math problem on the board, or when your mom asks you to take the dog to the park for an hour. Feeling excessively worried or uneasy about any of these everyday situations could indicate that you’re suffering from an Anxiety Disorder. 

An Anxiety Disorder is defined by Children’s Mental Health Ontario as “when the level of anxiety is great enough to interfere with every day activities.” Some Anxiety Disorders are a response to social situations, such as attending school or meeting new people, while others present as a constant feeling of worrying that something bad or embarrassing is going to happen. 

Children and youth who experience anxiety may feel tense, sweat or blush uncontrollably, and in some cases the feelings are so overwhelming they feel like they’re having a heart attack. You may notice your child repeating behaviours, like hand-washing and touching doorknobs. This can also be a sign that your child is dealing with anxiety. 

Six percent of children have an Anxiety Disorder that is serious enough to require treatment, but the good news is that with treatment, anxiety can get better. Some options for treatment include medication to help regulate chemicals in the brain, supportive counselling, and education. By learning to identify what causes him/her to worry or feel distressed, your child can develop strategies to calm himself/herself down when he/she starts to feel anxious. 

It’s important to seek treatment so that your child can learn coping skills for dealing with their anxiety, minimizing its impact on their daily life. If you are concerned that your child or teenager may be suffering from an Anxiety Disorder, there is help available. Peel Children’s Centre offers a range of programs and services that can help your child or youth learn to cope with their anxiety. To access these services, call Mental Health Services for Children and Youth at 905-451-4655 to begin the intake process. Free walk-in counselling is also available throughout the week in Peel Region – learn more by visiting http://tangerinewalkin.com. In a crisis, you can call our Crisis Response Line at 416-410-8615 – this service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days year. 



 


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