How Anxiety Affects Speech in Children
Jan 20, 2022 An anxiety disorder in children? What could they possibly be worried about? They’re just children after all!
For many, the idea of a child having anxiety seems almost impossible. And yet, studies tell us it is one of the most common forms of mental disorder among kids.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 7% of children (from 3- to 17-years-old) are diagnosed with a type of anxiety disorder. It’s true that a child may not be able to express their feelings like an adult, but it does not mean that they don’t experience worry and fear. This blog explores how anxiety may affect a child and some of the treatments used to combat it.
In This Article
Definition of Anxiety
According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and often physical changes such as increased blood pressure. Although feelings of anxiety can be quite normal and are needed for survival, when these feelings become unmanageable or interfere with one’s daily routine, it is a disorder.
And though there are different types of anxiety, children mostly experience the following: generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, separation anxiety, selective mutism, or phobias.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Childhood Anxiety
- Excessive clinginess towards parents
- Difficulty concentrating in school
- Constant worry/irrational fears
- Overeating or not eating enough
- Body-focused repetitive behaviors
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Feeling tense or fidgety
- Speech difficulties
- Regressive behavior
Did you know anxiety could affect a child as early as 1-year-old?
Research tells us that it is common for toddlers to experience separation anxiety when starting school or meeting strangers. As well, the severity and persistence of their fear can lead to bigger problems such as an actual anxiety disorder.
Causes of Anxiety in Children
From environmental to genetic factors, there are various reasons as to why a child could have this disorder. While children can develop anxiety as a result of stressful events (trauma or neglect), it is also possible for them to learn it from their parents. And sometimes, it’s simply genetic.
How Can Anxiety Affect a Child’s Speech?
Because abnormal forms of stress affect one’s breathing patterns, it is possible for a child with anxiety to develop a fear of speaking. For instance, a child may have a quiet or shaky voice. Selective mutism is another way in which anxiety may interfere with a child’s speech. Though not a speech disorder in itself, selective mutism means a child is unable to talk in some settings (classroom or around strangers), but can easily speak at home.
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Diagnosis and Treatments
A formal diagnosis of an anxiety disorder requires your child to be evaluated by a team of health professionals. This team may include, but are not limited to a child’s pediatrician (to rule out other conditions), a psychologist, or a trained therapist. Once a child receives a proper diagnosis, there may be various forms of treatments.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT: a method used to aid a child to learn how to acknowledge and change their negative thoughts.
Exposure therapy (another form of CBT): is a technique used to reduce a child’s fear by gradually exposing them to what they are afraid of.
Medication: In more severe cases, older children may be recommended medication to ease their anxiety.
Additionally, parents can implement different tools to overcome anxiety disorders in kids. Remember to pay attention and acknowledge your child’s feelings. But also, do not enable or reinforce their fear; doing so can hinder them further.
Indeed, anxiety does not discriminate based on race or age.
Just like adults can have an anxiety disorder, children can also have one. But one thing is for sure, anxiety is not a death sentence. It is absolutely possible for a child to overcome it. ☺
Books to learn more about childhood anxiety
- Sometimes I’m Anxious, Volume 1 – (A Child’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety) by Poppy O’Neill
- The Opposite of Worry: The Playful Parenting Approach to Childhood Anxieties and Fears by Lawrence J. Cohen
- What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner