At age six, I brought my daughter in to her pediatrician for her yearly physical. This was not the first year that the doctors questioned me about her hysterics when they would get within two feet from her. I kept telling myself, that this is normal child behavior, most kids are scared of the doctor. Age five’s physical went by with them questioning me about her and noting “White Coat Syndrome” in her file. My husband and I thought nothing of it until the following year.
The physician’s assistant who saw my daughter at age six was the same one who performed her physical the year before. There were many tears, screams, and full-on hysterics once my daughter and I arrived at the doctor. I was only hoping this year they put in that mini-bar I so needed. To my disappointment, no said mini-bar was there (but think about how much money they would make if there were one). The tears started small scale as we sat in the waiting room. Once we were brought back into the examination room, my daughter’s fears were escalated, and she was shaking, screaming, crying, saying “No, no doctor, no,” over and over again.
I sat and watched my child. What was making her like this? Did she actually remember the 4-5 shots she received at age four because she would start Kindergarten? I tried calming her, rocking her shaking little torso in my own, telling her that there would only be one shot this year, the flu shot. This didn’t quell her fears. Her crying was to the point where she was about to vomit. When the PA came in, she remembered my daughter off the bat without even looking at her file. She tried to comfort her in a voice that only pediatricians, daycare and young school age teachers have. That sweet tender, comforting tone.
Through the screams, because my daughter was doing anything but calming down, the PA asked me several questions about her behavior.
Did she do this often or only with doctors? Did she fear other things to this extreme? Did she complain of being sick a lot?
My child was the queen of stomach aches. Every day she told me she had a stomach ache. I just brushed it aside. Then she asked, “Is there a history of childhood anxiety in the family?”
“Not childhood, but both my husband and myself have a history of Anxiety. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”
It was then that the physician’s assistant gave my daughter the diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and suggested therapy.
Over the years, my daughter’s Generalized Anxiety Disorder has been similar to a roller coaster ride; several ups and fast crashing downs. Her biggest source is anything that is medical. She has feared catching Ebola, Rabies and, this year, the flu. She is 11 now and currently in therapy. We most recently have taken her to a psychiatrist for an evaluation at her therapist’s request and discussed the possibility of medication.
How Do I Know If My Child Has A Possible Anxiety Disorder?
Everyone has some level of anxiety in their life, kids and adults. I had no idea when my daughter was younger that what she was exhibiting was an Anxiety Disorder. Children are typically scared of the doctor and dentist. I never thought her behavior was out of the ordinary. After her diagnosis was given, I immersed myself into online research on anxiety in children. Although there are many similarities with anxiety in adulthood, I learned of a few differences. Here is what to look for:
- Excessive Worrying – This can be worrying about whether a family member might die to failing in school. As I mentioned with my daughter, she excessively worries to the point of catastrophizing anything medical. This is not how typical people worry. This worry will occupy their mind and interfere with everyday tasks.
- Panic and/or Anxiety Attacks – These can last 10 minutes or an hour. Some things to look for are: hyperventilation, sweating, trembling, complaining of chest pain or rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and feeling like they are “going crazy” or “going to die.”
- Insomnia or Fatigue
- Being Overly Fidgety
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Irritability – This one is tough as your child ages. Irritability is common in preteens and teenagers as well as adults.
How Can I Help My Child If They Are Diagnosed?
My daughter’s pediatrician suggested looking to her school for help. Luckily her parent-teacher conference was a couple of weeks after. I brought up her diagnosis to her first grade teacher and she suggested the Special Friends Program. This program is for students in Kindergarten and first grade. It provided a period of relaxation during the school day for the child to draw or play a game while confiding in their “Special Friend,” a teacher. It worked wonders for my daughter. Some other things that may help:
- Talking With Your Child’s School – Letting the school know will help if anything arises during the school day. Depending on the severity, a 504 plan might be created for your child. This plan will provide your child with additional education services they may need due to their diagnosis. Check with your school to see if they have any program similar to my daughter’s Special Friends Program.
- Therapy – In general, therapy for an Anxiety Disorder is one of the best treatments. The most common type of therapy used is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (or CBT). This therapy teaches your child to recognize negative thought patterns and behaviors and replace them with positive ones. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (or ACT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (or DBT) are other forms of therapy that may be used. Please consult your child’s physician to see which would be best for your child.
- Exercise – It is a proven scientific fact, that exercise releases serotonin, the ‘happy’ chemical, into your brain. Because of this, you tend to feel more content after a workout. Take your child on a walk or a hike and enjoy the extra benefits nature has to provide.
- Meditation & Mindfulness – Training your mind to be present and in the moment.
- Yoga – Like meditation and mindfulness, yoga focuses your brain on concentrating on breathing and being in the moment while getting a bit of a workout in. There are many locations that offer child yoga classes.
- Medication – A difficult choice because of the warnings and stigma behind it. Please consult your child’s physician and a child psychiatrist to obtain all the facts before deciding to go this route.