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Mental Health Expert: Ignoring a Child’s Anxiety Problems is the Worst Thing a Parent Can Do

We live in a busy society: always changing, always on-the-go.  Although the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is behind us, many people struggle with stress and anxiety year-round.  And, according to the National Institute for Mental Health, up to one in four children and adolescents struggle with an anxiety disorder.  KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann reports.

When kids develop stress-related conditions, it’s often in the form of anxiety disorders.  Kara Davis, a licensed school counselor for Springfield Public Schools, says she sees more and more of kid’s “outside problems” being brought to school.

“You know, we have all of these things that are happening in the world and we have access to so much information, and I feel like that also is anxiety producing.  So that may very well have an impact on kids’ worries.  You know, not only worrying about their own lives, but worrying about the lives of other people, and what’s going on in the world,” Davis says.

Davis says everyone worries on some level.  She explains that when worry, compulsion, or anxiety reaches a point where it affects a child’s everyday life, it’s a serious problem.

Davis works with middle-school students—that’s an age at which anxiety-related problems first take root.  She says during this time of their lives, children are even more susceptible to stress, and are especially vulnerable to what others think of them. Davis encourages parents who are concerned about anxiety problems to begin by talking.

“I think it’s really, really important to talk to your kids.  In talking about, you kind of get a sense of how deep this really goes.  Talk to the school and find out if your student is doing well at school.  Are teachers seeing this? Are other people seeing this?  Is this something across the board, or is it something that is coming home to you?” Davis says.

Anxiety disorders include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder—known as OCD—post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social phobias, and general anxiety disorder, or GAD. 

Todd Williams is outreach specialist for Burrell Behavioral Health. He says OCD is one disorder that often can become debilitating for the person experiencing its effects.

“The thing to watch out for with OCD is that the obsessions become recurrent and persistent.  So it’s not something such a passing fad, not something that just occurred once or twice.  Usually these obsessions become frequent, often times they’re unrealistic or irrational to the situation,” says Williams.

Davis and Williams both say that diet, exercise, sleep and stress reduction can help with anxiety disorders.  In some cases, counseling and other therapy may be helpful.  Williams says Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or CBT, helps change patterns of thinking. It “re-trains” the brain.

“One of the other types of therapies that I’ve found useful when I’ve worked with children, especially those with OCD or a social phobia disorder, is called an exposure therapy.  Which is basically that you gradually give them encounters to either the feared situation or object, where they gradually ease into the situation,” Williams says.

Williams says the worst thing a parent can do is ignore the issue.  He urges parents to seek guidance from a family doctor, or other clinical sources. 

For KSMU News, I’m Theresa Bettmann.