If your child is exhibiting signs of anxiety or struggling to cope with stress, art therapy can help. Every child and family is different and has different needs. Understanding your child's mental health and personality can help in finding treatment or which coping skills to use when anxiety increases.
The internal worries associated with anxiety can have a significant impact on a family's daily living, school, work, and play. Art therapy provides a safe and supportive environment for children and adolescents to explore their feelings and gain the tools they need to move forward. Anxiety can affect children’s academics, self-esteem, and social skills and if left untreated will impact a child as they grow into adults.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a common experience that affects everyone at some point in their life.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease in the body connected with thoughts of worry.
Anxiety is a natural human emotion designed to keep us safe and a normal reaction to life’s stresses.
Fearful thoughts of judgment, shame, or guilt trigger the automatic nervous system. Increased anxiety activates the flight, fright, or freeze response.
Most people will worry at some point and experience anxiety. Increased anxiety over long periods can cause a build-up of stress hormones in the body. Excess cortisol and adrenaline with prolonged stress or trauma can cause toxic stress syndrome in children.
What causes anxiety?
Internal and external factors can influence it. We are born with a set of genes and what we experience in our life will determine what genes live die or go dormant. Mental well-being is influenced by nature and nurture. Children are sponges absorbing messages from their environments and caregivers. How are adults role-modeling stress and anger? Are they teaching children healthy or unhealthy coping skills?
Anxiety in children becomes a problem when you notice changes in your child, loss of interest in activities they enjoy, or no longer want to go to school or leave the company of a parent. There may be concerns if your child's fear and worry interfere with daily life. The big feeling becomes overwhelming and challenging to self-regulate in the moment. Excessive anxiety in children can trigger excessive crying or angry outbursts along with physical symptoms in the body.
Types of anxiety disorders in children:
1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder- Children can experience an excess of fear or worries related to people, places, or things. Such as making or keeping friends, worries around family members, and dynamics at school.
2. Panic Disorder- Children may experience fear or dread over small things with no real cause or reason to be afraid. In their mind, a great fear has been created where there is no direct danger, but the child will do anything to avoid it. If a child has multiple episodes, they may also have increased anxiety about having a panic attack again.
3. Separation anxiety- It is normal for young children to feel some anxiety when a parent or caregiver leaves the room or sightline. It becomes a problem when a child becomes older and will not detach from parents. This can be common when kids start school however if it takes the child a long time to calm down, inconsolable tears and extremely distressed.
4. Specific phobias- A child has an intense fear related to a specific thing or situation. Such as water, animals, darkness, flying, foods, or textures.
Signs and symptoms:
Loss of appetite
Physical complaints of things hurting such as upset stomach.
Refusal to go to school or sports activities.
Extreme worry about going to sleep or spending the night away from home.
Tantrums, panic, or clinginess when separated from parents.
What do kids worry about?
Therapy can be the first step for a child to realize that it is safe to talk about their feeling and personal experiences. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be very helpful for older children to become aware of patterns in thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and body reactions. Art therapy is great for children to talk about stressful situations playfully.
Tips on helping your child calm down and manage feelings:
· Count to 10
Cool Down Kit/Box
Mindful breathing (belly breathing/ 3 deep inhale/exhale)
Exercise / Stretch
Sleep calming routine.
Connect and share feelings with others.
How to achieve personal goals without anxiety:
When making personal goals, it’s helpful to set small goals along the way.
Small attainable goals allow a child to achieve success throughout the day. As a parent, it is important to set goals with your child without creating anxiety for yourself.
You can pre-select the rewards for each step towards a big goal:
Each day record accomplishments and the small steps the child has taken.
Identify a small or large reward to celebrate.
Note what has worked well and what has not worked.
Congratulate the child when they have desired behavior. (catch them being good)
Start a journal to notice patterns.
Share your goals with your child and can help support or motivate each other
Identify how you will reward yourself along the way.
Be kind to yourself – it is about progress and not perfection.
Children need to exercise and move tension out of their little bodies.
How many days per week does your child want to exercise?
When is the best time to exercise in the morning, afternoon, or evening? What type of exercise/movement does your child like jumping, running, walking, swimming, or going to the park?