WNY Family Magazine July 2018 - Page 34

kids’ lives where they are starting to feel more self-conscious.” Kids Worried Sick Left untreated, anxiety can cause kids to miss out on important social expe- riences and lead to poor performance in school, substance abuse, physical illness- es, depression, self-harm, and suicide.  Causes of Anxiety Anxiety can be a product of genetic wiring or a result of a specific stressful or traumatic event. The condition can also be triggered by a combination of fac- tors, ranging from marital and economic distress in the family to overwhelming school pressures, social media and in- tense news stories.  Breaking down the anxiety epidemic facing today’s kids —by Christa Melnyk Hines L ike many active 10-year- olds, Ava (name changed for privacy) is involved in competitive cheerleading, enjoys play- ing the flute in her school’s band and loves spending time with her group of five close-knit friends. But daily life is a struggle for this fifth grader, who is haunted by debilitating worries about her personal safety, her health, and be- ing alone. “She’s always had issues with being alone in the house,” her mom says. “If I’m doing laundry, she’s in the laundry room with me. She still sleeps in our bed at night. I make her go to bed in her bed every night, and I sit in her room until she falls asleep. But, by about 1 o’clock, she comes and gets in our bed.”  Ever since Ava broke her arm last year during a cheer practice, her anxiety has steadily worsened. “She thinks she’s having heart at- tacks, and she’ll go to the school nurse saying she can’t breathe and her face is numb,” her mom says. “Before that, she’d never been to the school nurse in the six years she’s been in elementary school.” Ava isn’t alone. Mental health ex- perts say that anxiety is now the num- ber one most common mental health challenge among children. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 31 percent of adolescents, ages 13 to 18, suffer from an anxiety disorder of some 34 WNY Family July 2018 kind, with girls at a slightly higher risk. Thanks to increased awareness and understanding of the disorder among healthcare practitioners, more children receive the treatment they need at an earlier age. “I’m seeing kids who in the past would have just white-knuckled their way through life until it got to the point where they couldn’t do it anymore,” says Dr. Jane Sosland, a child and adolescent psychologist. “The stigma of mental health is slowly, slowly being chipped away and that’s a good thing.”  What Is Anxiety? From your heart slamming against your rib cage before standing up to speak in front of an audience to sweaty palms during a job interview, we’ve all experienced anxiety. Anxiety becomes a problem when it affects quality of life and interferes with the activities you normally enjoy. Some symptoms of anxiety disorder include panic attacks, sleep problems, heart palpitations, chest pain, muscle tension, unexplained uneasiness, dizzi- ness and cold, sweaty, numb or tingling hands or feet. “Usually, anxiety can start in the very young years, but then it can rear its ugly head in the teenage years,” Dr. So- sland says. “It’s something probably do with hormones and puberty and a time in Some experts also worry that “he- licopter” style parenting can exacerbate anxiety. So-called “helicopter parents” go to great lengths to protect their chil- dren from failure or struggles, resulting in emotionally-fragile young adults who lack the confidence to independently solve their own problems.  Without a sense of resilience, try- ing to manage life’s inevitable ups and downs becomes exceptionally stressful.  “Resilience is built by working through adversity and difficult situa- tions. It is difficult to pick yourself up and brush yourself off if you never fall down,” says Dr. Zafar Mahmood, a child and adolescent psychiatrist.  Parenting Anxious Kids Although you should maintain the same expectations for your anxious child as you would another child, it’s okay to adjust those expectations during stressful moments. Plan ahead for tran- sitions to ease anxiety and praise small accomplishments, like when your child tries something new. “An anxious child is very difficult to parent sometimes. On the one hand, they’re usually very well-behaved, very much follow the rules, do well in school, but they also can be challenging for a parent because they really want a lot of reassurance,” Dr. Sosland says. “How- ever, they can’t get it enough.”