By Renee Chillcott, LMHC
It’s hard to imagine sometimes, that children can suffer from anxiety. What do they have to be worried about? Without jobs, bills, mortgages, and responsibilities, their lives are simple and easy. Are we over scheduling them? Are we putting too much pressure on them? Do they have too many unnecessary worries? Are video games or social media to blame? Do they need to toughen up or are we failing them?
The truth is that anxiety is a pattern of neuron firing in the brain that can be present from birth. Brain neural patterns don’t necessarily dictate how we will behave, however, trying to change the environment or behavior won’t alter the patterns. Therefore, you can’t talk someone out of anxiety. And for children, you can’t change their routines or discipline them from feeling anxious. In babies and infants, anxiety neural patterns in the brain may present as:
• Not a good sleeper
As a child gets older into the toddler years it may present as:
• Terrible two’s, three’s, and four’s
• A spirited child
• Cranky, fussy, and not a good sleeper or napper
• Picky or sensitive
• Difficulty with separation
I know what you are thinking. These symptoms are normal for children this age. And you are correct; they are perfectly normal, developmental behaviors for infants and toddlers. This is why diagnosing anxiety in young children is very difficult and not usually done unless symptoms are severe. In most cases, anxiety manifests at an older age when the symptoms are abnormal for the age or stage of development. And even then, parents tend to want to attribute what they observe to behavioral, personality or social causes.
“She didn’t study for her test and that is why she’s refusing to go to school today”. “He’s unmotivated to do anything except play video games and that is why his stomach hurts all of the time and he sleeps all day’”. “She just has too many activities scheduled and that’s why she’s overwhelmed”. “He has too much homework and is up all night studying which explains why he doesn’t sleep well”.
The reality of the situation is that neither your child’s personality nor their hectic schedule is the culprit. It’s their brain, or rather, the neural patterns in their brain, that is not allowing them to handle the workload at school, pressure with friends, feeling good, making good food choices, having a normal sleep schedule, and so on. And to make it even harder to diagnose or differentiate, anxiety patterns can look different but produce the same results.
Here is an example of one type of anxiety pattern. Increased BETA and High BETA is located in the central and frontal lobes. This could cause anxiety symptoms that range from OCD, anger control issues, irritability and impulsivity, poor judgement, excessive worrying, feelings of being overwhelmed and depressed, among others.
Very often, we contribute anxiety to traumatic events. As in the case of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Therefore, it becomes difficult to recognize the early symptoms of anxiety in children who haven’t experienced a traumatic event. However, as mentioned previously, these neuron firing patterns can be present from birth and may not have a root or cause in emotional or physical trauma. It’s a pattern in the brain that they are born with.
As a child reaches school age, anxiety may look like:
• Worrying about performance, grades
• Worrying about parents or loved ones dying
• More separation anxiety
• Fear of getting sick (vomiting is most popular)
• Fear of getting sick at school
• Social anxiety, difficulty with friends
• Feeling overwhelmed
• Nightmares or unable to sleep/fall asleep alone
• Sleep walking, talking or restless sleep
• Refusal to go to school or meltdowns when going
• Frequent trips to the clinic
• Vocal or motor tics
• Loss of appetite or poor diet
• Somatic symptoms such as stomachaches,
headaches, diarrhea, or digestive problems
• Poor grades usually due to missing school or
As they reach the teenage years, the problem can become more apparent and more severe:
• Continued worry and difficulty handling traumatic
• Dropping out of extra-curricular activities
• More social interaction difficulties or isolation
• Depression or suicidal ideations
• Poor choices when confronted with life decisions
(drugs, alcohol, sex)
• Beginning to develop dysfunctional coping skills or
• Poor school performance/ failing classes
• Onset of panic attacks
• Continued somatic symptoms and fluctuation in
• Manifestation into other anxiety disorders such as:
Obsessive-compulsive Disorder, Eating Disorders, Trichotillomania, PICA, Body Dysmorphic Disorders, Phobias, Panic Disorders, Addiction, Social Anxiety, Performance Anxiety, etc.
According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Anxiety and depression are treatable, but 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60 percent of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment, according to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report.”
Many health professionals believe that anxiety is a normal part of childhood and symptoms are not cause for alarm. Others believe that parenting and discipline need to be improved or implemented to treat the symptoms. In severe cases, medication is introduced as a treatment, but unfortunately, many children who suffer with symptoms, are medication resistant or not severe enough to medicate.
Neurofeedback can help. Neurofeedback can not only help reduce the anxiety symptoms specific to your child, but it can “retrain” the neural patterns in the brain so that anxiety is better managed or controlled throughout your child’s life. Through Neuroplasticity, Neurofeedback becomes a permanent correction of the anxiety patterns in the brain.