June 22, 2020 / By thadmin2
What I need to know to help my child with Anxiety
- What are Anxiety Disorders?
- What are the common Anxiety Disorders faced by children and youths?
- What types of therapies do Thrive Psychology Clinic provide for children and youths with Anxiety Disorder?
- Parenting a child with an Anxiety Disorder.
- Support and resources for parents.
What are Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders are a group of disorders characterised by excessive fear and anxiety to different events, situations or objects. Although worrying about future events (anxiety) or feeling threatened by current events (fear) are common to most individuals, the fear and anxiety experienced in anxiety disorders are usually very intense, persistent and often unwarranted. This is because the individual tends to overestimate or magnify the danger that they feel in their feared situations.
Although there is a wide range of anxiety disorders, some of the more common anxiety disorders include:
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Specific Phobias
- Panic Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
- Separation Anxiety Disorder
- Selective Mutism
Studies suggest that anxiety disorders are more prevalent in females than in males. Typically, anxiety disorders first develop in childhood due to bad encounters with certain events or objects and persist into adulthood when left untreated.
What are the common Anxiety Disorders faced by children and youths?
Among the wide range of anxiety disorders, some of them are experienced more exclusively by children because they tend to outgrow their fears as they develop. These disorders include Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) and Selective Mutism.
Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a disorder in which children experience excessive fear and anxiety when they have to leave their parents or caregivers. As a result, children with SAD are often very reluctant to be apart from their caregivers and might have worries or nightmares about losing their parents due to illnesses or accidents. They may refuse to go to school and may make frequent complaints of somatic symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches when they foresee their caregivers leaving them alone. Although it is common for children to cling to their parents, the anxiety experienced in SAD has to be excessive and inappropriate based on the child’s age.
Selective Mutism is a consistent failure of a child to speak up in social situations where they are expected to speak, such as in-class or when asked a question. Although children can and do speak around close family members, those with selective mutism might not respond to interactions initiated by their friends or even second-degree family members. Largely due to their excessively high social anxiety, they may substitute speaking for nonverbal communication such as grunting or pointing.
Although Separation Anxiety Disorder and Selective Mutism are more commonly experienced by children, children do experience other types of anxiety disorders as well. Children with specific phobias have an excessive fear of certain objects or situations, typically animals, heights or injections. Those with social anxiety disorder have a fear of social situations, such as conversing with others or performing for others, as they are worried about being scrutinised or embarrassing themselves.
Children with panic disorder typically experience recurrent, unexpected panic attacks in response to certain fears. During a panic attack, they typically experience sweating, trembling, chest pains, nausea and dizziness, and may faint in extreme circumstances. As a result, those with panic disorders might experience agoraphobia, where they worry about being in public places, using public transportation or being outside of the home alone. Finally, Generalised Anxiety Disorder is best defined by general feelings of anxiety and worry about a wide range of different situations.
Contact us for an appointment to receive a psychological assessment for your child.
What types of therapies do Thrive Psychology Clinic provide for children and youths with Anxiety Disorders?
At Thrive Psychology Clinic, we recognise the uniqueness of each individual. Hence, we are always broadening our therapeutic services to ensure that all our clients’ have their mental well-being cared for in an individualised manner.
Here are some of the therapies that may help a child with Anxiety Disorders:
- Behavioural Therapy
- Neurocognitive Therapy (can be used to complement Behavioural Therapy)
- Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT)
- Art Therapy
- Music Therapy
- Animal-assisted Therapy
To manage anxiety disorders, behavioural therapy has been recognised as one of the most effective measures to help children and youth recognise and overcome their fears. Most notably, exposure therapy is a type of behavioural therapy that is most commonly used for confronting one’s fears. By gradually exposing the child to their feared object or situations in a safe environment, the child is carefully guided by the Therapist at each stage of exposure while applying multiple coping techniques that eventually enables them to confront their fears.
For example, a child with a specific phobia of dogs may be first exposed to harmless pictures of dogs. Through principles of habituation and learning coping skills such as breathing regulation exercises, the child learns to tolerate seeing the pictures without feeling too much anxiety. Once this is achieved, the child might be tasked to be in a room with a small dog next. The difficulty level of the tasks continues to increase until eventually, the child is able to approach and play with a large dog with reduced fear. Another important and relevant phobia, particularly for our society, would be the fear of examinations. The Therapist can guide the child to overcome stress and anxiety in simulated test scenarios, eventually allowing them to achieve their full confidence, potential, and performance, in actual exam settings.
As a common response to our fears is to avoid and run away from them, this short-term benefit of fear reduction will only encourage the individual to continue avoiding the feared object, thereby perpetuating a fear-avoidance cycle. Because it is difficult for one to overcome fears without confronting them, exposure therapy can benefit children in improving their tolerance of fear and showing them that their feared situations do not occur. Eventually, this allows the child to go about their daily activities without significant interference.
Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT) is an up-and-coming treatment modality that is also effective in treating a host of anxiety disorders. With specific phobias or socially-related anxiety such as that of Social Anxiety Disorder, Selective Mutism, and Agoraphobia, it can often be difficult or impractical to expose the child to the feared situations or stimuli, much less gradually vary the level of exposure. With VRT, exposure can be achieved conveniently and is easily tailored to fit the individual needs and level of preparedness of the client. Computer-generated virtual environments can be constructed to simulate different social situations, such as public speaking in front of a digital crowd. Throughout this process, the Therapist will assist the client and work through a variety of skills to improve their social functioning and reduce the amount of anxiety experienced, allowing them to work collaboratively through their challenges in a safe and comfortable environment.
Besides exposure, VRT can also be used to teach specific techniques such as meditation and deep breathing to the child, to help them pay attention to their physical symptoms and learn to regulate their emotions and manage their distress. These techniques are imperative in identifying the onset of panic attacks and alleviating the many physical symptoms of anxiety, reducing cortisol levels and slowing down heart rates.
At Thrive Psychology Clinic, VRT can be used to enhance the overall experience of meditation, making it more precise and personalised. The immersion into beautiful, tranquil scenery and exotic landscapes helps to add extra dimensions to clients’ experience of meditation, while also making meditation an easier and more engaging skill to learn. With the Therapist’s guidance, the client is thus able to attain a calmer mental and emotional state of mindfulness and relaxation.
Contact us to enquire more about our therapies available.
Parenting a child with an Anxiety Disorder
Parenting in itself is not an easy feat. At Thrive Psychology Clinic, we recognise the need to support parents and caregivers through:
- Educating caregivers of children and youths with special needs e.g., workshops and webinars at Thrive Psychology Clinic
- Providing advice on how to manage their stress
- Developing their skill in identifying the ABC’s (i.e., antecedent, behaviour, and consequence) such as P.O.W.E.R. in Behavioural Therapy (preview video displayed below)
- Encouraging caregivers to accept their child with special needs and not feel despair
- Creating self-help online resources for parents who wish to educate themselves more
- Regularly providing complimentary educational resources by subscribing to our mailing list and social media platforms
Given their often busy schedules, parents may not always be able to accompany their children every day. Even when they are with them, they may not be able to provide constant supervision over what they are doing. For a child with anxiety, being left on their own, even if for just short periods of time, may be a stressful experience. This stress and tension may manifest physically as well – leading to restlessness, fidgeting, scratching, and other disruptive behaviours. Finding alternative outlets for this restlessness can often be a fruitful way to channel excess energies. Small handheld toys such as fidget spinners can help to improve control over any unwanted motor behaviours, preventing children from engaging in more harmful ones such as nail-biting or scratching.