Many children can have behaviors resulting from feelings that are very difficult for them to cope with. Sometimes these are very strong worries or fears that can interfere with participation in school, home and play.
These feelings may be based on:
- Worries about bad things happening to them or about their family or their future
- Fears centered on being away from parents
- Worries about what others think about them, making them not want to attend school or social events, or be around others at all
Or, the anxiety appears in sudden, surprising episodes with intense fear, difficulty breathing, dizziness, heart pounding and shakiness. The strength of these feelings and how much they affect children and families is what makes the difference between helpful anxiety and anxiety disorders.
At other times, the feelings that change how children look at the world are different. They experience feelings of hopelessness, irritability, or sadness most of the time. Children may no longer want to enjoy or do fun things. They may be tired a lot of the time, have trouble paying attention, change how they are sleeping or eating, have strong feelings of guilt or worthlessness, and/or show self-injury or suicidal behavior. Together, these are signs of depression.
Both anxiety and depression are called internalizing disorders. There are many treatments that can helpful at reducing how much these problems can affect children. These can include cognitive behavior therapy with a focus on what actions and thoughts are helpful and unhelpful for our feelings, dialectical behavioral therapy with a focus on how to better cope with distress, using more mindfulness, and improving relationships. Finally, medical treatments can also be very useful for both anxiety and depression.