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Soapbox: Does your child suffer from anxiety?

Lexie Ainge Cottle, is a Lake Oswego resident who has a private practice in professional counseling as part of the Compassionate Counseling Center in Tigard.

CottleSummertime is often the time that parents notice behaviors and symptoms in their child that might seem “just a bit off.” Parents may notice that their child doesn’t seem to have much fun, may seem preoccupied with anxiety and worry, and just overwhelmed with life. Often in response to these behaviors, parents are left frustrated, thinking, “This isn’t normal behavior,” and often wondering, “How can I help my child?”

Anxiety disorders affect more than 13 percent of children and are the most prevalent condition among children today. Anxious children are highly cautious, overcorrecting for the possibility of danger. Their wiring has them seeing danger when it’s not there. Children with Generalized Anxiety Disorder spend their time making sure that they are doing the right thing all the time — looking ahead, planning, making sure that nothing goes wrong and fearing the worst consequences for small actions.

Anxiety becomes a disorder when it lasts longer than six months and when children become debilitated by their fears. They often experience chronic fatigue and other physical complaints, decreased academic functioning and strained peer and family relations. In trying to determine whether a child’s fears fall within a normal range, it is important to look at the following checklist:

· Does your child demonstrate excessive distress out of proportion to the situation?

· Is your child easily distressed and angry when in a stressful situation?

· Does your child become nonresponsive to logical arguments?

· Does your child experience frequent headaches, stomachaches or is just generally feeling too ill to perform normal activities?

· Does your child anticipate events with excessive worry (for hours, days or weeks)?

· Does your child have difficulty falling asleep and/or have frequent nightmares?

· Does your child have perfection-like standards for themselves?

· Is your child overly responsible and apologizes unnecessarily?

· Does your child avoid regular, fun activities?

· Do you find yourself spending excessive amounts of time coaxing your child to participate in regular activities, such as eating, homework and even playing?

When dealing with a child’s anxiety, it is important to not talk at them, but to ask them questions and then simply listen. Listen to their fears and empathize with these feelings. Then a parent can help explain that anxiety is a voice in their head that doesn’t have to control their actions. For younger children, it is helpful to come up with a name for their anxious voice, and perhaps have the child draw a picture of what they think their anxious voice looks like. When they display a specific fear, run to the library and pick up a book on the subject and read the book with the child. Work on helping them find their own calming techniques, such as taking deep breaths, playing with a paper clip, closing eyes and picturing something happy. When they are experiencing severe anxiety, help remind them of these calming techniques.

And above all, acknowledge your child when they have taken a big leap of courage and made even a small attempt to overcome a fear. Be their biggest cheerleader.

Get on your soapbox

The Times offers a soapbox to stand on every week in our Opinion section. The soapbox is a guest column written by any reader on any local issue of public interest. They should be no longer than 800 words (about three double-spaced typewritten pages) and should include the signature, address and phone number of the writer. Soapboxes are due Mondays at noon and can be emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



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