Can you spot an anxiety disorder?

A survey from the Pew Research Center found that 96% of teens say anxiety and depression is a major problem among their peers.

As a parent, it can be hard to watch your child struggle with anxiety. It can be even harder if you don’t know if your child is experiencing normal fears or struggling with something deeper.

“Typical worries or fears do not significantly affect a child’s overall functioning,” says Dr. Munther Barakat, clinical psychologist at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital. “After beginning to engage in a feared task, a child should begin to develop a level of comfort. With an anxiety disorder, the anxiety gets worse.”

How do you know if your teen is dealing with an anxiety disorder?

Some signs include:

  • Emotional: More than pervasive worry, anxiety also can be a teen feeling on edge and restless and having difficulty concentrating.
  • Social: A once-social teen who starts avoiding interactions with friends and activities and spending more time more time alone may be dealing with anxiety
  • Physical: A pattern of headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and unexplained aches and pains can be a sign.
  • Sleep: Teens are often tired, but consistent issues with falling asleep or staying asleep, as well as frequent nightmares, with no obvious cause, may be a sign of anxiety disorder.
  • School performance: Untreated anxiety can influence a student’s school work, leaving a student feeling overwhelmed and causing a significant drop in grades.

Helping your child develop resilience is one way a parent can help a child avoid anxiety. Be sure you’re not modeling anxious behavior. Don’t teach your child to fear unknown situations, Barakat says. Another way is to control your desire to rescue your child.

“Parents are programmed to help their children when they see them in need. The key is not to ‘save’ their child and give in to a child’s avoidance,” Barakat says. “Accommodating a child’s anxiety makes it worse. The more an individual spends outside of their comfort zone, the more resilient they become emotionally.”

If a child’s anxiety has affected their ability to function, psychological or psychiatric intervention is needed. A child being involved in therapy or a program that teaches behavioral skills to help manage their emotions is helpful.

Parents should stay calm when a child becomes anxious and encourage children to not give into anxiety. Recognizing and praising small accomplishments can help build a child’s confidence.

“Parents should not make significant accommodations or even try to predict situations that may produce anxiety and avoid them,” says Barakat. “This communicates to the child that they should give in to the anxiety and avoid situations that make them uncomfortable.”

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