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Causes of Anxiety in Children (and What You Can Do About It)

Living with anxiety is a challenging experience. It isn’t just the fear and deep dread in itself that can be disruptive. It can also derail other parts of life, from social interactions to simple everyday functioning. Not to mention that it isn’t always something predictable. The symptoms of anxiety can crop up unexpectedly.

Such issues are bad enough for an adult. For children, the impact can be genuinely devastating to their wellbeing. Their experiences can also affect their development and sense of self-worth. It’s not an unusual issue either. Around 1 in 6 children in the UK are expected to experience mental health challenges, including anxiety. As such, it is important as a parent to understand childhood anxiety a little better.

Let’s take a closer look at the common causes of anxiety in children and what you can do about them.

The Causes

Anxiety is a relatively complex condition. It can take the form of long-term traits that are present throughout children’s lives, or it can be chronic. As such, there can be a range of potential causes or often a combination of them. Understanding these can be key to helping your child navigate their specific challenges. 

Some of the most common causes include

  • Stressful or Traumatic Events

When children have experienced trauma or stress, this can result in experiencing anxiety related to the circumstances. This isn’t just limited to their childhood, either. When left unaddressed, childhood trauma can spark anxiety and panic well into adulthood. This is because the strong emotions connected to the situation can leave them feeling unsafe in specific scenarios, around certain types of people, and on a general day-to-day basis.

The types of stressful or traumatic events can vary significantly. It may be the result of a family crisis, like death or divorce. The anxiety could stem from sustained abuse or neglect. Even experiences that could seem relatively minor to adults can be traumatic for kids. As such, it’s important to take your kids’ perspectives seriously when identifying sources of anxiety.

  • Neurodivergent Traits

Neurodivergence has become gradually better understood in recent years. This term describes people whose brains function in different ways to those considered neurotypical. It can include people living with conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or learning difficulties among others. This doesn’t mean children with these traits are ill; rather, they operate from an alternative perspective. Unfortunately, it is common for these children to experience anxiety.

The reasons behind this can be varied. Particularly for those on the spectrum, anxiety can stem from a tendency to experience sensitivity to external stimuli. This can cause them to feel uncomfortable, overwhelmed, or unsafe in some situations. Anxiety can also arise from the need to navigate the world differently from others around them.

  • School or Social Experiences

The journey of developing through childhood and adolescence can be anxiety-inducing enough. This can be particularly pronounced through kids’ school and social experiences. It’s a confusing time and there can be some intense expectations and peer pressure. It’s not unusual for children to become anxious regularly because they feel so little agency over or understanding of the situation. 

Indeed, this is a common challenge for many young people. For instance, teenage rebellion often stems from a need for your child to gain some control at a time they feel they have none. It’s important to make sure you validate your child’s feelings here. Pay attention to what they’re saying and what specifically is contributing to their fear and discomfort around school and social situations.

How You Can Help

As a parent, you naturally want to help your child address their challenges. Anxiety isn’t something you can ensure your child will be free of for the rest of their lives. But you can be instrumental in empowering them to manage the symptoms and mitigate the negative impact.

Some approaches to consider include

  • Keep Communicating

Anxiety tends to breed in silence. The sense of fear isn’t necessarily solved by sharing it, but it can lessen the mental and emotional load. However, your child will not always find their anxiety an easy discussion topic; indeed, it may be symptom-inducing in itself. As such, it’s important to start talking about emotions and triggers as early as possible. Make it clear to your child that you’re offering a safe space to talk about whatever’s troubling them.

  • Encourage Self-Awareness

Your child may live with symptoms of anxiety throughout their childhood and into adulthood. As such, it’s important to empower your child to navigate their anxiety independently. A good place to start here is by helping them gain a certain amount of self-awareness. Encourage them to recognize what situations are particularly triggering of their anxiety. Discuss what early symptoms they’re likely to experience so they can notice and address these before they get too bad. Use visual tools such as mind maps to explore these ideas openly and practically. This should be an ongoing project that your child can add to with new data on their experiences.

  • Seek Treatment

If your child’s experience of anxiety gets particularly disruptive, it can be wise to seek treatment with your general practitioner (GP) or a therapist. There are various forms of anxiety treatments available to children; this isn’t necessarily going to be limited to medications. A professional may also recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help them better manage their anxiety. This approach involves identifying and changing any negative thought patterns and behaviours, enabling the child to cope with their anxiety through the skills learned through CBT. The important thing is to help your child see that they’re not powerless in the face of their experiences. There are mechanisms they can adopt and experienced experts keen to help them through it. Conducting an online search for San Francisco therapists or one tailored to your location will yield results of local professionals and establishments that can help.

Conclusion

Your child’s experiences of anxiety can impact their wellbeing and shape their ongoing development. It’s important to understand how elements like trauma and neurodivergent traits can contribute as causes here. Gaining greater knowledge of the root aspects can help you and your child to identify the most appropriate methods of managing their symptoms. With some research, communication, and professional guidance, you can help empower your child to thrive beyond their anxiety.

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