Anxiety Attack: Tests, Friends, the World & Other Things Your Child Worries About
Childhood is full of stresses. Kids are constantly bombarded with new stimuli and sensations: Their bodies are changing and growing; their school becomes more demanding; and they are continually confronted with new social situations. Life is a roller coaster of emotions and changes both physical and mental. No wonder kids often experience anxiety or "blue" periods. Moodiness is a normal part of adolescence. However, when moods don't lift over long periods of time, children might be suffering from depression or anxiety disorders. How can a parent identify the symptoms of adolescent anxiety? When should parents seek treatment for a child with these symptoms? And what can parents do to help their children cope with daily stresses?
These were some of the topics addressed by a panel of mental health specialists at the latest forum on learning disabilities jointly sponsored by NYC Parents in Action and the NYU Child Study Center. The meeting, featuring panelists specializing in adolescent psychology and learning disorders included Dr. Lori Evans, Director of the School Based Intervention Program & Supervising Clinician of ADHD Services at the NYU Child Study Center, Dr. Larry Hess, private psychologist specializing in testing and treating learning disabilities in children, adolescence and, adults, and Dr. Melvin Oatis, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at the NYU Child Study Center. Lucy Martin-Gianino of NYC-Parents in Action moderated the discussion.
An estimated 5 percent to 20 percent of all children are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Some children are predisposed to anxiety and manifest symptoms as early as 2 years of age. These are the children who spend their time anticipating the worst. One panelist describes these kids as "preoccupied, nervous, and unable to relax." Their anxiety can carry over into schoolwork manifested by fears of inability to learn.
Other children find they are unable to perform up to expectations. Some of these children suffer from early learning disorders, such as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), dyslexia (a neurological condition that creates difficulty in decoding words), or poor visual perception. Children whose learning disorders are not diagnosed often get the idea that they are "incomplete, and no one can help." They can begin experiencing a downward spiral into free-floating anxiety. Many kids with dyslexia, or language processing skills often dread reading out loud. They often perceive themselves as stupid.
Anxiety can manifest itself in an inability to focus on a specific task. Some kids may talk in a monotone. Others might suffer from frequent headaches, while others often become over reliant on adults to help them. They are unsure how to proceed when performing a task on their own. These children feel "there is something incomplete in their life."
If you believe your child is suffering from an anxiety disorder, the first step is to get a professional evaluation. Many times children will improve with the help of anti-anxiety or anti-depressive medication, such as Prozac, Paxil, or Zoloft. Other children might simply need professional counseling to learn coping skills.
Parents and teachers can also offer a supportive environment. A rule of thumb is not to deny or negate the child's anxiety. Be honest! Admit to your child that life is full of stresses, but there are ways to relieve them. Some people jog or work out. Others use medication or meditation or apply relaxation skills.
Test anxiety is a big concern for many adolescents. Teaching kids to pack necessary materials such as pens, rulers, calculators, the night before a test can alleviate some of this anxiety. Sometimes a tutor can also be helpful. If your child feels embarrassed about getting extra help, compare the tutor to a sports coach; the tutor is there to help get the work done better and faster the same way a baseball coach can help you better hit a ball.
For kids who despair they can't compete with their peers, remind them the best form of competition is with oneself. Encourage these kids not to compare themselves to their classmates, but to work towards their personal best.#
Additional assistance in the field of adolescent anxiety and other adolescence problems, can be gained by contacting associations such as the NYU Child Study Center at 212-263-6622 or NYC-Parents in Action at 212-987-9629.