As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else. So how can you tell if your child needs professional help to deal with their anxiety? Generally, professional assistance should be considered if a child’s anxiety is causing them significant distress, if it is not age appropriate, and/or is interfering in their academic, social or family life.
Listed below is the criteria for problematic anxiety.
Significant interference in day-to-day life:
Anxiety becomes problematic when it significantly interferes in the daily activities of the child, and/or their family. Children with problematic anxiety tend to experience high levels of anxiety across many facets of their lives. Issues for parents to consider: Is your child unable to complete homework tasks due to their anxiety? Are they having difficulty making or maintaining friendships? Do they frequently express anxiety about going to school, or are absent from school due to anxiety? Are they frequently complaining of feeling sick/unwell? Is there anxiety stopping them from doing what they would like to do? (e.g. stay over at friends’ places, playing sport, going swimming). Is your child so anxious that they are frequently losing sleep, or need to sleep in the same room as you or another family member?
Anxiety becomes problematic when it is not age appropriate because it is more likely to interfere with daily activities. If other children are displaying the same sorts of behaviour, then it is likely that the anxiety is appropriate. For example, children between the ages of 6 months to 6 years often show distress upon separation from their parents. However, children of 10 years of age usually do not become distressed when separating from parents.
Children with problematic anxiety experience high levels of distress due to that anxiety. Questions for parents to consider: Is your child becoming extremely upset when faced with their fear? Is your child enduring anxiety-provoking activities with a high level of distress? For example, a child with social fears may cry whilst having to participate in a group activity. Is your child frequently having meltdowns at the prospect of, for example, going to school, being away from you or home, or having to mix with other children?
Length of time:
Duration of a child’s anxiety is important to consider. Has your child been displaying anxious behaviour for quite sometime, and has this behaviour been constant? For example, if a child was anxious for 1 week whilst away at camp but has been fine ever since, it’s unlikely that this child would require further assistance. However, if the anxious behaviour has been continuing for a few months* and has remained reasonably constant, causing significant interference and distress in the child’s life on more days than not, it may an indication that the child’s needs assistance to cope with their anxiety.