I was wondering if anyone here has had experience with childhood anxiety disorders. My niece is 7 years old and has always been a very smart child. Over the past month she has begun having panic attacks whenever she is required to be separated from her parents. They now have to go to school with her when before this she was enjoying school (this necessitates her mother sitting in class with her all day and then working the night shift- needless to say the mother is exhausted). She constantly worries about dying and about her parents dying. The parents have taken her to a pediatrician who was not able to find anything physically wrong with her, so now they are starting visits with a child therapist. The teachers at her school are very unsympathetic, attributing the fears/shortness of breath that the child is experiencing to behavioral problems. Is there any way to tell if this is a behavorial issue vs. medical?
Any insight would be so much appreciated.
Apr 6, '04
I've worked with kids with anxiety and a couple with school refusal. We've had good results working with these kids, but it takes patience, time, and understanding. People who don't believe the child is experiencing anxiety and who think she should just "get over it" certainly don't help the situation. If your niece could get over it by willpower alone, she probably would. Feeling anxious and panic-y isn't something someone would choose to do. She needs the adults in her life to support her and help her. Hopefully, her therapist is working on a plan with her and her family to get her through this so that mom can stop coming to school with her and so that she can feel that her world is safe.
Anxiety and panic disorders are very real, but most people who don't have them can't understand why a person who knows intellectually that everything is fine can't control his or her body's anxiety response. Children have even fewer coping abilities than adults do. Many adults are able to hide their anxiety and function despite it. Kids' reactions are out there for everyone to see. It may not look like what we think of as anxiety (or depression) and many times anxiety looks like acting-out behavior (and so does childhood depression).
Does your niece have any history of behavioral problems or are the teachers jumping to conclusions? If they are disapproving and judgemental, it will only make the situation worse. I doubt that your niece is on a power trip or enjoying manipulating people--which might be how adults are viewing her behavior. Therapy should help, but it will take some time, and she may have problems with anxiety throughout her life.
I hope things get better for her.