Does your daughter ever get nervous or worry about little things? Have you noticed any sudden changes in her behavior recently? This could just be normal everyday stress or it could be an anxiety disorder.
It is estimated that approximately 1 in 8 children suffer from an anxiety disorder. Raising girls in our society is more challenging than it’s ever been. We are seeing more and more young girls and teens exhibit signs of stress and symptoms of anxiety disorders. Fortunately we have the tools to help both you and her.
So first, what is the difference between normal stress and an anxiety disorder? Normal, everyday stress is usually temporary and can be attributed to a specific factor (like a school project, exam or a competition.) These triggers will often have a starting point and an end causing your child to feel better once that event has passed. Children with an anxiety disorder continue to have these feelings and usually have a hard time stating why they started to feel that way to begin with. Those with anxiety find it difficult to identify a specific reason as to why they feel nervous or worried. A big difference in anxiety and normal stress is a sudden change in everyday functioning that causes significant impairment in their ability to live a normal, healthy life.
Although anxiety can manifest in many different ways and can look different from child to child, some signs and symptoms to look out for can include (but are not limited to):
- sudden drop in grades
- complaining of physical problems such as stomach aches, headaches, muscle pain
- fighting to go to school/missing a lot of school
- changes in sleep/eating patterns
- tantrums/crying spells
- panic attacks
- avoiding specific objects/people/situations
- extreme negativity
Here are some tips that you can practice at home to help your daughter manage her stress or anxiety:
- Empathize with your daughter. Even though her worry may be irrational to you, it canfeel very real to a child. Empathizing can help your daughter feel safe and know that she is understood and able to communicate her worries. Come up with at least one coping strategy that will help her to ease her worries in the moment; for example writing worries in a journal, practicing deep breathing or taking a walk with the dog outside.
- Set aside a “worry time” that allows you and your daughter to explore her anxious thoughts.
- Help her name her feelings. Oftentimes young girls and teens have a hard time figuring out what they’re feeling so assisting them with identifying how they feel can be empowering. Saying something like “wow, it sounds very frustrating that you can’t find your study guide” can be an easy starting point for this conversation.
If your child starts exhibiting some of these anxiety signs and symptoms, it might be time to reach out for professional help. If an anxiety disorder goes untreated, it can lead to other problems down the road such as depression, substance abuse disorders, poor performance in school and work and low self-esteem. Helping her manage stress and anxiety symptoms now can help set her up for future success as an adult woman.