It is normal for children of all ages to experience anxiety. We must be aware and pay attention to the signs of whether the anxiousness is a passing phase or an issue that requires professional assistance and management.
According to Drs. Dacey and Fiore (“Your Anxious Child,” 2000) there are actually eight types of anxiety disorders: specific (simple) phobia, social phobia, agoraphobia, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), separation anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Many times we hear others jokingly refer to these disorders, but the truth is many children endure all the demands of a school day and a diagnosed disorder of anxiety. The adults in their lives must recognize that there may be an opportunity to empower our children even when they function differently than their peers. We have all been afraid at one point but to know a student is facing fear abnormally triggers teachers to advocate for their students in a sensitive and confidential manner.
Signs to look for depend on the stage of development of the child. Younger children need words to calm their distress (Sunderland, 2006) and that you correctly understand the nature of his distress by telling him in a in language they can understand. If you are seeing the following behaviors, it may be time to seek assistance (”The Science of Parenting,” 2006):
• persistent states of anxiety
• phobias and obessions
• physical symptoms/illness
• being cut off emotionally
• lethargy and lack of get-up-and-go
• lack of desire and excitement
• lack of spontaneity
We want to address these needs when children are young. As adults, we know the stress that life can bring and we want our children to be able to manage it appropriately and with wisdom.
Stress is an emotional and physical experience for us all and it deserves to be properly addressed for our children so that they can cope. Dacey and Fiore suggest that we assist by Calming the nervous system with certain techniques, Originating an imaginative plan, Persisting in the face of obstacles and failures and Evaluating and adjusting the plan (COPE).
Life will provide many circumstances that deliver stress for our children. Our natural instinct is to protect or shield our children from everything, but that’s impossible. What we can do is be realistic and proactive to give our sons and daughters the best lives they can have.
Tysha K. Pittman is a school counselor with Florida State University Schools.