Some anxiety among children and adolescents is a perfectly normal part of growing up. Some children, however, experience an overwhelming sense of anxiety and dread. Some experience symptoms of panic attacks. Some become so preoccupied with their triggers and symptoms that they struggle to attend to normal daily activities. Childhood anxiety can negatively impact life in school, family relationships, peer relationships, and even the physical health of the child.
It’s important to know that there are different types of anxiety that can hit your child at different times of their development. Here is a list of a few.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD causes kids to worry almost every day — and over lots of things. Kids with GAD worry over things that most kids worry about, like homework, tests, or making mistakes.
But with GAD, kids worry more, and more often, about these things. Kids with GAD also worry over things parents might not expect would cause worry. For example, they might worry about recess, lunchtime, birthday parties, playtime with friends, or riding the school bus. Kids with GAD may also worry about war, weather, or the future. Or about loved ones, safety, illness, or getting hurt.
Having GAD can make it hard for kids to focus in school. Because with GAD, there is almost always a worry on a kid’s mind. GAD makes it hard for kids to relax and have fun, eat well, or fall asleep at night. They may miss many days of school because worry makes them feel sick, afraid, or tired.
Some kids with GAD keep worries to themselves. Others talk about their worries with a parent or teacher. They might ask over and over whether something they worry about will happen. But it’s hard for them to feel OK, no matter what a parent says.
Separation anxiety disorder (SAD). It’s normal for babies and very young kids to feel anxious the first times they are apart from their parent. But soon they get used to being with a grandparent, babysitter, or teacher. And they start to feel at home at daycare or school.
But when kids don’t outgrow the fear of being apart from a parent, it’s called separation anxiety disorder. Even as they get older, kids with SAD feel very anxious about being away from their parent or away from home. They may miss many days of school. They may say they feel too sick or upset to go. They may cling to a parent, cry, or refuse to go to school, sleepovers, playdates, or other activities without their parent. At home, they may have trouble falling asleep or sleeping alone. They may avoid being in a room at home if their parent isn’t close by.
Social phobia (social anxiety disorder). With social phobia, kids to feel too afraid of what others will think or say. They are always afraid they might do or say something embarrassing. They worry they might sound or look weird. They don’t like to be the center of attention. They don’t want others to notice them, so they might avoid raising their hand in class. If they get called on in class, they may freeze or panic and can’t answer. With social phobia, a class presentation or a group activity with classmates can cause extreme fear.
Social phobia can cause kids and teens to avoid school or friends. They may feel sick or tired before or during school. They may complain of other body sensations that go with anxiety too. For example, they may feel their heart racing or feel short of breath. They may feel jumpy and feel they can’t sit still. They may feel their face get hot or blush. They may feel shaky or lightheaded.
Selective mutism (SM). This extreme form of social phobia causes kids to be so afraid they don’t talk. Kids and teens with SM can talk. And they do talk at home or with their closest people. But they refuse to talk at all at school, with friends, or in other places where they have this fear.
Specific phobia. It’s normal for young kids to feel scared of the dark, monsters, big animals, or loud noises like thunder or fireworks. Most of the time, when kids feel afraid, adults can help them feel safe and calm again. But a phobia is a more intense, more extreme, and longer lasting fear of a specific thing. With a phobia, a child dreads the thing they fear and tries to avoid it. If they are near what they fear, they feel terrified and are hard to comfort.
With a specific phobia, kids may have an extreme fear of things like animals, spiders, needles or shots, blood, throwing up, thunderstorms, people in costumes, or the dark. A phobia causes kids to avoid going places where they think they might see the thing they fear. For example, a kid with a phobia of dogs may not go to a friend’s house, to a park, or to a party because dogs might be there.
What are the signs of anxiety in kids?
- Often complains of headaches or stomachaches
- Refuses to eat snacks or lunch at daycare or school
- Won’t use bathrooms except at home
- Is restless, fidgety, hyperactive, or distracted (even without having ADHD)
- Starts to shake or sweat in intimidating situations
- Constantly tenses muscles
- Has trouble falling or staying asleep
- Cries a lot
- Is very sensitive
- Becomes grouchy or angry without any clear reason
- Is afraid of making even minor mistakes
- Has panic attacks (or is afraid of having panic attacks)
- Worries about things that are far in the future
- Is worried or afraid during drop-offs (at daycare, school, relatives’ homes, etc.)
- Has frequent nightmares about losing a parent or loved one
- Asks “what if?” constantly (“What if an earthquake happened?”)
- Avoids joining in during class activities like circle time
- Remains silent or preoccupied when expected to work with others
- Refuses to go to school
- Stays inside alone at lunch or recess
- Avoids social situations with other kids, like birthday parties or extracurricular activities
- Constantly seeks approval from parents and caregivers, teachers, and friends
- Says “I can’t do it!” without a real reason
- Has meltdowns or tantrums
What are the consequences of untreated anxiety?
If you look at the high rates of anxiety disorders, you’ll see that the numbers rise as children get older. That makes sense because anxiety disorders are cognitive, so they develop as our cognitive ability develops. Separation anxiety, for instance, develops early, whereas social anxiety disorder usually develops after puberty. A study of more than 10,000 kids, interviewed by trained professionals, shows that more than 30 percent had developed an anxiety disorder some time before they were 18.
Anxiety frequently recurs, too, and childhood anxiety is often a precursor for adult anxiety, especially for kids who don’t receive treatment. The same study showed that 80 percent of kids with anxiety do not get treatment. Many adults seeking help for anxiety remember feeling anxious when they were younger, which means that they’ve been struggling for a long time and could have benefited from treatment as children. Avoidance reinforces anxiety.
Kids with untreated anxiety also begin to develop poor coping skills. A common example is avoidance—people who are very anxious will try to contain it by avoiding the thing that makes them anxious. It’s a short-term solution that unfortunately reinforces their anxiety instead of acclimating them to it.
Similarly, untreated anxiety can lead to lower self-esteem, academic dysfunction, and self-medication through substance abuse.
Does anxiety lead to depression?
People living with anxiety for extended periods of time are also more likely to develop depression. It isn’t uncommon to meet patients who come seeking treatment for depression or depressive symptoms and it turns out that they have been dealing with lifelong anxiety as well. In cases like this people need treatment for anxiety and depression.
Fortunately, we know a lot about how to treat anxiety. It responds very well to cognitive behavior therapy, and there are medications that work, too. And, recently, CBD has been in the news to help fight anxiety. Getting help makes a big difference, and treatment doesn’t need to be a lifelong thing—although its positive effects will be.
You can read about adult anxiety options here.
Different treatment options
1. Self- care steps that may be helpful in some less- serious cases:
- Exercise daily- make sure they have time to play
- Maintain a positive attitude
- Get enough sleep
- Learn what triggers anxiety and alleviating it
- Eat well- balanced diets
- Practice relaxation techniques such as meditation (read about it here)
- Stop consumption of caffeinated drinks
- Theraputic Treatment
2. Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the idea that how we think and act both affect how we feel. By changing thinking that is distorted, and behavior that is dysfunctional, we can change our emotions. With younger children, focusing first on the behavioral part of CBT can be most effective. The goal is, essentially, to unlearn avoidant behavior. Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the idea that how we think & act both affect how we feel.
One of the most important techniques in CBT for children with anxiety is called exposure and response prevention. The basic idea is that kids are exposed to the things that trigger their anxiety in structured, incremental steps, and in a safe setting. As they become accustomed to each of the triggers in turn, the anxiety fades, and they are ready to take on increasingly powerful ones.
Exposure therapy is very different from traditional talk therapy, in which the patient and a therapist might explore the roots of the anxiety, in hopes of changing her behavior. In exposure therapy we try to change the behavior to get rid of the fear.
3. Pharmacuetical Treament
The most common type of medication used for treating anxiety disorders in children and adolescents is a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. They work by raising levels of a brain chemical known as serotonin. This enables brain chemicals to communicate better, helping to improve mood and reduce anxiety. These medications include sertraline, paroxetine, and citalopram. Side effects include insomnia, anxiety, nausea, and diarrhea.
A doctor may also prescribe an anti-anxiety medication, such as alprazolam or clonazepam, for children and teens with anxiety that prevents them from attending school or performing everyday activities. An anti-anxiety medication calms the central nervous system and provides short-term relief. Side effects include fatigue and dizziness.
4. CBD for the Treatment of Anxiety in Kids
How effective is CBD in treating symptoms of anxiety in children? One study, which was led by researchers at the University Of Colorado School Of Medicine in Fort Collins, Colorado, researched the experience of a 10-year-old girl’s experience with CBD treatment for her anxiety. She had previously experienced several highly traumatic incidents, leaving her with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as insomnia and severe anxiety. The patient had previously been on pharmaceutical medicines, but they had proven to be no longer effective in combating her anxiety. She also experienced adverse side effects to some of the drugs. This study was published in the fall 2016 issue of The Permanente Journal.
During the study, liquid CBD was administered to the girl each morning and night for 12 weeks. Her symptoms related to anxiety were monitored by a psychiatrist who helped with the study, as well as by her family when she was outside of a clinical environment. The results were astounding.
Almost immediately following her CBD dosage, the young girl appeared to be calmer and functioning better throughout the day. She began to complete her schoolwork, which was previously a struggle for her. She also started to engage more with her family as well as the researchers involved in the study.
The patient’s insomnia was also significantly improved by the CBD. Researchers found that she was able to remain in a deeper state of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep throughout the night with little to no periods of alertness or restlessness, which was previously an issue for her. This is important as many people who struggle with anxiety also tend to battle insomnia.
CBD is considered to be an effective treatment for anxiety and the symptoms associated with it due to the way it interacts with neurotransmitters in integral regions of the brain. When combined with CBD’s ability to stimulate CB1 receptors in the brain, it leads to a natural anxiolytic, or anti-anxiety, effect.
Many children experience anxiety after a traumatic experience. When a child develops feelings of anxiety, he is often covered in fear and loses some of his ability to enjoy the beauty and positive feelings of life. When CBD is used to treat anxiety, it can help to work by inhibiting neurotransmitter activity in the brain, leading to a calming effect on the patient that lasts. During this period, the brain is able to take a break from focusing on the trauma from before, while enabling the child to feel good about himself and the world around him. Research has found that using CBD oil for anxiety can also improve self-esteem in individuals who suffer from anxiety.
The most common way to use CBD with children is the sublingual method, which involves putting a few drops of CBD oil under the child’s tongue. The child then needs to hold the drops there for approximately 30 to 60 seconds so that the oil may be absorbed into the bloodstream. Then the child may swallow.
Some children are not fans of the distinct taste of cannabidiol oil and will avoid taking it. Another option, then, is CBD gummies, which are sold in many delicious flavors.
CBD is proven to be able to work with the body, offering natural relief to people of all ages. Although more conclusive research is needed regarding the cannabis plant and its compounds, evidence supports CBD’s ability to support pediatric anxiety, as well as other anxiety disorders. As always, it is advised to speak with your child’s pediatrician before administering any form of treatment or therapy to your child with anxiety or any other condition.
For more information on CBD oil- What it is, how it works, benefits and side effects, click here.
How much CBD should I give my child?
As mentioned before, you should always consult your primary physician or naturopath to determine if CBD is right for your child and to determine an optimal dose, however, if you wish to understand better where to start and how much to use, some basic guidelines are:
Children 30lbs or less: 2.6mg (low strength) to 7.8mg (medium strength)
30-40lbs: 3.6mg (low strength) to 10.8 mg (medium strength)
40-50lbs: 4.6mg (low strength) to 13.8mg (medium strength)
50-75lbs: 6.4mg (low strength) to 19mg (medium strength)
75-100lbs: 7.5mg (low strength) to 22.5mg (medium strength)
It is best to start with a low dosage and assess the child’s response to the supplement and adjust the dose as needed with the guidance of your licensed healthcare professional.
Choosing the right CBD product is a personal choice. Do your research. Make sure to check the product ingredients. The CBD industry is not regulated by the FDA as of yet, so you have to be diligent. Personally I use CBDPure. They are third party tested, made from organically grown hemp in Colorado and fully guaranteed.
See a doctor immediately if you notice the child is having suicidal thoughts !!
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I am not an anti-vax, pro-vax, anti-pharma, pro-pharma person. I am, however, a “choose the best decision for yourself” person. I use nature AND medications to treat myself. Do your research and decide for yourself.