I remember how the idea slowly but surely built up over several weeks about my anxious daughter. “This is not going away.” I was really hopeful it was just a brief episode. I am a psychologist and so I was doing what I could to help. Some days it seemed better. Finally that hope crashed. I used up the repertoire I had at the time. This was a hard moment for us. My wife and I started looking for more help. Even with a doctorate I was pretty mystified. I can only imagine what it must be like for moms and dads without medical or psychological training.
So, here is the purpose of this rather long article (when it is finished). I want to try to save you some time, money and wrong-turns. If I had to do it again from scratch here is what I wish someone could have told me. In other words, If I only knew then what I know now…..
A disclaimer: I wrote an anxiety program for children as a result of my personal and professional experience. Do I want you to buy it? Yes. Do I think it is awesome? Yes. Nevertheless, I am going to do my best to be objective and unbiased in what follows. Our program is just one of many resources available and I want to give an broad overview. I am also located in the US so forgive my provincial perspective.
The first thing is to figure out what is going on. It is not always clear if it is anxiety. It may seem more like depression. It may seem like anger. It may seem like your child is at war with anyone in authority. It may look like stubbornness. It may seem eccentric. It may seem like you child is more responsible than an adult. If it is anxiety it can look like a lot of different things.
It has a very unique and often strange set of rules. What makes it worse is when you ask your child, “What are you upset about?” You will probably get the answer that is makes a parent feel as helpless as a turtle in a shoebox, “I don’t know.”
In order to figure out exactly what your child is experiencing so you can determine what to do about it here is what I would do:
If this is available to you, get a medical exam. If you miss a diagnosis whatever treatment you pursue may be completely useless.
I am not advocating that your first step is medication. Rather, I think that your first step is to determine if there are any medical conditions that are factors in your child’s anxiety. If that is the case you can waste hundreds of dollars on counseling.
I’ll give you an example. An adolescent client was telling what he had tried in the past to help with his symptoms. He mentioned treatment that included learning to breathe (diaphragmatically) and relax. He told me it was because he sometimes felt he might choke or that his throat was closing. (That is, in fact, a possible symptom of anxiety.) Psychological treatment was ineffectual.
Eventually, he was correctly diagnosed with acid reflux. Correct treatment cleared up his symptoms. For more information about this see Medical Issues that Present as Anxiety Disorders.
Often your physician may be aware of psychological treatment options and can direct you toward help.
MD’s do not have supernatural powers. (Nor do psychologists, however, dads have it. At least I’m sticking with this.) They can miss things. The case I described above was missed at first by his MD. If your “parent instinct” is that it is medical then you may have to be persistent.
Many parents are interested in naturopathic treatment options as well. Whether or not your physician is a fan of this treatment, he can let you know if there are any potential problems with drug interactions or other things to keep in mind if you use this treatment.
Chances are, your child will be in fine health. If that is the case then go to the next step (these don’t have to be in order).
Read about the various kinds of anxiety and see if any of them fit your child. A diagnostic category is not exact. People don’t always fit exactly into one category. Some kids have more than one type of anxiety. It is hard to tell what your child is thinking and so you won’t know if some parts of descriptions fit or not.
If I could offer some advice use the descriptions to “rule out” anxiety. If none of them fit pretty well you may need to go in a different direction. Don’t worry too much about figuring out exactly which type of anxiety unless it is very clear. Panic and separation anxiety are usually pretty self-evident. OCD, social anxiety and some phobias can be hidden to some extent. Our site has an overview of disorders and links for more detail.
Here is a link to the Spence children’s anxiety scale. You can download and score it. It will take some time to read and understand but will help you narrow down the type of anxiety your child may face. Without going into details about test construction please do not treat this as the final word on your child. It is one measure only.