Experiencing occasional anxiety is normal, healthy, and usually varies as children grow and develop. However, when worry becomes persistently extreme and hinders daily functioning for an extensive period, it needs to be addressed. There are many kinds of anxiety disorders but the most common among children are separation anxiety, social anxiety, and generalized anxiety. Anxiety is difficult to diagnose in children because it often co-exists with other exceptionalities such as ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, learning disabilities and giftedness. Excessive anxiety may also cause other issues of concern such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, eating disorders, Selective Mutism, and Social Anxiety.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Worry Wise Kids, http://www.worrywisekids.org/node/70
International OCD Foundation, https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by constant, excessive worry about several different things. Children with general anxiety may anticipate disaster and may be overly concerned about health, family, and world problems that they see in the news. This type of anxiety is difficult to control, produces excessive fear about actual events, and causes children to expect the worst-case scenario. When anxiety and worry can not be controlled on more days than not and last for at least 6 months, it may be time to seek medical help.
Source: Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), https://adaa.org/
“When children do not outgrow the fears and worries that are typical in young children, or when there are so many fears and worries that they interfere with school, home, or play activities, the child may be evaluated and diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Examples of different types of anxiety disorders include:
- General anxiety – being very worried about the future and about bad things happening
- Separation anxiety – being very afraid when away from parents
- Phobias – having extreme fear about a specific thing or situation, such as dogs, insects, or going to the doctor
- Social anxiety – being very afraid of school and other places where there are people
- Panic disorder – having repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear that come with symptoms like heart pounding, having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty “. Center for Disease Control, https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/features/anxiety-depression-children.html
- Trouble concentrating
- Irritability or anger when in a stressful situation
- Muscle tension
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia), frequent nightmares, difficulty sleeping alone
- Fear of being separated from loved ones
- Fear of specific things
- Chronic physical complaints: headaches, stomach aches, often too sick to go to school
- Change in interests and quality of work
- Avoidance of friends & social activities
- Perfectionism, self-critical, very high standards that make nothing good enough
- Overly responsible, people pleasing, excessive concern that others are upset with him/her, unnecessary apologizing
Repetitive reassurance questions, “what if” concerns, inconsolable, won’t respond to logical arguments
Anticipatory anxiety, worrying hours, days, or weeks before an event
Difficulty with going to school, friend’s houses, religious activities, family gatherings, errands, vacations
Excessive time spent consoling child about distress with ordinary situations, excessive time coaxing child to do normal activities such as homework, hygiene, meals
Very Well Mind https://www.verywellmind.com/anxiety-symptoms-2633863
American Academy of Pediatrics, healthychildren.org, https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/emotional-problems/Pages/Anxiety-Disorders.aspx
TIP: Medicine or Behavior Changes
In a rapidly changing world, children have challenges to deal with that are unique to their generation: safety threats such as terrorists and pandemics; social media and personal exposure; overuse of technology leading to lack of play; and increased loneliness. As a result, more children and teens than previous generations are using medication to control anxiety and depression so they can manage their fears. Medication is necessary in some cases, but should be the last tool to use, after implementing all other strategies. Fortunately, homeschoolers have many strategies available to help alleviate anxiety and build healthy mental practices.
Source: Anxiety Free Child, https://anxietyfreechild.com/teen-anxiety/
The two most commonly used strategies are:
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy, a skill focused intervention, is the most effective researched based practice for lasting success. It teaches kids to challenge their anxious thoughts and understanding of situations, rather than accepting anxious thoughts as the truth. It further encourages them to generate more realistic versions of situations and their ability to cope with them, creating a new mindset in which children break down challenges into small, manageable steps.
- Exposure therapy, a type of CBT, focuses on increasing exposure to feared objects or activities until the child become comfortable with them.
- SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), antidepressants, are the medications most frequently used for treating anxiety disorders in children.
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, healthychildren.org, https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/emotional-problems/Pages/Anxiety-Disorders.aspx
Other helpful strategies to implement at home:
- Regular, routine sleep: going to sleep and waking at approximately the same times each day.
- A winding down routine before sleep such as reading, warm bath, a warm chamomile tea or almond milk, and no screen time (TV, computer, phone) one hour before bedtime.
- Rigorous exercise daily that increases heartbeat and produces sweat!
- Limit screen time (whatever that is, just begin reducing it).
- Limit intake of news.
- Regular, intimate conversations with loved ones.
- Healthy diet, low on sugar and high on vegetables, fruit, and protein.
- Art and/or music lessons, art therapy or a personal art/music space at home.
- Journaling and illustrative journaling where the child can express himself.
- Breathing exercises, yoga, stretching.
- Scripture memorization and regular prayer.
- Recreational Therapies
Use scripture to effectively replace worry with strength and peace by locating scriptures that speak truth into your child; memorize them together; create songs with them; post them around the house for practice; and create a small laminated packet of credit card sized scripture cards to keep on hand. This is a type of replacement therapy that is highly effective and will provide peace for your child throughout her lifetime.
For example, when Susan experiences re-occurring worry about an upcoming event, she quotes Philippians 4:6-7 with her mom and replaces that worry with praise and thanksgiving for what God has already done in her life. When she feels inadequate, lacking confidence in certain skills, she sings the song she created from Philippians 4:13, replacing that fear with the truth that she can do all things through Christ who strengthens her.
Worry Wise Kids provides parents, educators, and mental health professionals with comprehensive, user-friendly information on the full range of anxiety disorders: how to identify symptoms, find effective treatments, and prevent anxiety from taking hold in a child’s life. http://www.worrywisekids.org/
Different by Design Learning by Shawna Wingert (special education teacher, homeschooling mom) https://differentbydesignlearning.com/
Sensory Theraplay Box (calming sensory toys), https://www.sensorytheraplaybox.com/
Therapy Shoppe, (stress reducers), https://www.therapyshoppe.com/products/1735-reduce-anxiety-stress-relief-fidget-sensory-tool-toy?category_template=375
Article: Home School vs. Traditional School for Children with Anxiety and ADHD, https://anxietyfreechild.com/home-schooling-anxiety-adhd/
Selecting curriculum based on your child’s strengths and interest will automatically alleviate excess anxiety centered around learning. If he is very interested in literature and history, find a curriculum that integrates all subjects into these academic areas (i.e. Trisms); if science is her key interest, incorporate experiments, observations, and nature sketching (i.e. Rainbow Science or Noeo Science). Understanding your child’s preferred learning modality will also ease learning frustrations (see Multisensory/ Multimodal Instruction).