Child Depression Anxiety

Anxiety

All children experience anxiety. Anxiety in children is expected and normal at specific times in development. For example, from approximately age 8 months through the preschool years, healthy youngsters may show intense distress (anxiety) at times of separation from their parents or other persons with whom they are close. Young children may have short-lived fears, (such as fear of the dark, storms, animals, or strangers).

The keys to addressing anxiety are schedules and routines, increasing positive interactions with your child, and praising and rewarding them for coping with anxious situations.

Schedules and routines reduce any worry about when and where activities will happen. If your child does cope with a situation, praise and re-assurance goes a long way to assure that they will cope again in the future. Set up a reward schedule for successfully coping with a problem situation.If anxieties become severe and begin to interfere with the daily activities of childhood, such as separating from parents, attending school and making friends, parents should consider seeking the evaluation by a mental health professional One type of anxiety that may need treatment is called separation anxiety. This includes:

  • constant thoughts and fears about safety of self and parents
  • refusing to go to school
  • frequent stomachaches and other physical complaints
  • extreme worries about sleeping away from home
  • overly clingy
  • panic or tantrums at times of separation from parents
  • trouble sleeping or nightmares

 Another type of anxiety (phobia) is when a child is afraid of specific things such as dogs, insects, or needles and these fears cause significant distress. Some anxious children are afraid to meet or talk to new people. Children with this difficulty may have few friends outside the family.

Other children with severe anxiety may have:

  • many worries about things before they happen
  • constant worries or concern about school performance, friends, or sports
  • repetitive thoughts or actions (obsessions)
  • fears of embarrassment or making mistakes
  • low self esteem

Anxious children are often overly tense or uptight. Some may seek a lot of reassurance, and their worries may interfere with activities. Because anxious children may also be quiet, compliant and eager to please, their difficulties maybe missed. Parents should be alert to the signs of severe anxiety so they can intervene early to prevent complications. It is important not to discount a child’s fears.

Depression

While we think of depression as an adult problem, signs of some depression can be seen in children. Many depression behaviors and reactions are normal emotional reactions to everyday situations that children experience. So, feeling upset or sad over a losing a pet, a bad grade, playing poorly in a game, not getting invited to a birthday party, or breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend are typical, normal feelings following a loss or sad event. One should help the child label and identify their feelings, allow them to grieve for a while, and then help them resume a typical routine.

Routines and Schedules, Time In, and Sensible Consequences are all important strategies at this time. Sometimes when children are upset they are more likely to break rules and it is important to follow through on sensible consequences.

Sometimes, however, depressed feelings become more drawn out and longer than expected. Children with depression also may become much more irritable, annoyed at any little thing, argumentative and very difficult to live with. When there are chronic irritable or sad moods, coupled with negative comments about themselves (“I am stupid”), or others in the family (“You are all crazy”), then the depression requires treatment. Children with depressions tend to:

  • Make a lot of negative statements about themselves or others
  • May have a change in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Lose interest in activities
  • Have a loss of self esteem
  • Have a hard time making decisions about minor things

If you are not sure if your child is having a typical response to a sad situation or if they are becoming truly clinically depressed, an evaluation by a qualified mental health professional is a good first start.

Article by W. Douglas Tynan, PhD
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