Children have fears and worries just like adults. They also experience sadness, and feelings of hopelessness. While this is natural, there are some situations where dealing with anxiety and depression can be challenging for a child. They don’t tend to have the life experience to draw on for developing strong emotional management tools. At the same time, many environmental factors, and developing brain chemistry can also lead to struggles dealing with adverse or negative emotions.
For some children issues with anxiety and depression can be prolonged. Indeed, some experience strong fears in certain stages of development. Toddlers, in particular, can experience distress or separation anxiety when they are away from one or both of their parents.
When anxiety and depression becomes a long term problem, it may be a sign that they are struggling with internalizing disorders. In many of these cases, medical intervention, or mental healthcare intervention may be necessary.
Understanding Anxiety In Children
As they develop, children tend to outgrow their fears and worries. It’s when these issues interfere with school, home, social, and playtime interactions that the child may be struggling with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder.
There are several common types of anxiety disorders. Some of which are more likely to develop at certain stages of development. The most common are:
- Separation Anxiety which manifests as being very afraid when away from one or both parents.
- Phobias which manifest as an extreme fear about a specific situation, event or thing or situation.
- Social Anxiety can cause a child to be afraid of school and other places where they have to interact with people.
- General Anxiety is typically classified as being very worried about the future and the potential for bad things to occur.
- A Panic Disorder is typically classified as having repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear. This might include other physical symptoms such as heart pounding, difficulty breathing, feeling dizzy, and or profuse sweating.
Children who are dealing with long-term anxiety issues might also be irritable and short-tempered. They might also have trouble sleeping, suffer from fatigue, headaches and stomach discomfort. These symptoms might also cause a lack of appetite.
Understanding Child Depression
Just like adults, children have moments when they feel sad or hopeless. Yet there are some children who feel sad or suddenly lose interest in things they used to enjoy. These are all common symptoms of a child who is dealing with some degree or depression.
Other common behaviors associated with depression in children include:
- Frequent irritability
- Disinterest in fun activities
- Eating less than normal
- Sleeping a lot more or a lot less than usual
- Feeling tired or listless
- Moments of anxiety
- Struggling to pay attention
- Feelings of guilt or uselessness
- Self-destructive behavior
In some cases, severe depression can lead to thoughts of suicide, making comments about suicide, or even developing a suicide plan. This is more likely to occur between the ages of 10 and 22.
Treating Anxiety And Depression In Children
If you have seen signs of anxiety or depression problems in your child, the first step should be to contact The Pediatric Group. We can help you identify symptoms, perform a basic screening evaluation, and suggest behavior modifications that might help reduce their symptoms. If necessary, we can refer you to a mental health specialist.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry or AACAP, typically recommends that healthcare providers routinely screen children for behavioral and mental health concerns. In some of these cases consulting with a health care provider can help assess if medication needs to be included in the treatment plan.
In a case where therapeutic intervention is necessary behavior therapy such as child therapy, family therapy, or a combination of both may be needed. In certain circumstances, the child’s school may need to be notified or included in the treatment plan. This is more likely to be the case if the child’s symptoms are related to something like a learning disorder, or problems with bullying.
A treatment plan that involves Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, which is also known as CBT might be needed to treat anxiety or depression. This type of treatment plan is more common for dealing with depression and anxiety issues in teens and older children. The overarching goal is to provide the child with the psychological tools they need to change negative thoughts into more positive ones to help promote effective thoughts and behaviors.
Behavior Therapy is more commonly used to help treat anxiety in children by gradually exposing them to their fears. The intention is to demonstrate to them, in small doses, that they can indeed learn to cope with their fears.
Healthy Lifestyle Habits Help Lessen Symptoms And Improve Treatment Outcomes
Behavioral changes, therapy, and possible prescription medications can certainly help a child dealing with depression or anxiety issues. A healthy lifestyle at a comfortable home environment also helps maximize these efforts for greater treatment success. This includes things like making sure your child is getting:
- A good night’s sleep
- Nutritious food and beverages
- Frequent exercise and activity
- Appropriate levels of social interaction as well as social support
- No exposure to substance abuse
- Reduced conflict in the home
- Age appropriate limits on screen time
Other efforts to reduce stress can also be a major benefit. Children often flourish when provided with predictable routines, structured environments, and clearly defined expectations. Sometimes something as simple as keeping an up to date calendar in their room or on the refrigerator can help them feel empowered in knowing what to expect each day.
Exercise has also been proven to be very helpful for treating anxiety and depression in children as well as adults. A growing body of research has found that a child who participates in physical activity for 60 minutes each day have better treatment success rates for anxiety and depression.
Problems with anxiety, depression, and chronic stress can be difficult to identify and treat in adults. It can be even more challenging for children. Fortunately, The Pediatric Group has the experience and expertise to help identify emotional issues in children, diagnose, and help your child receive the kind of treatment they need to live a happy, healthy, well-adjusted life.