Anxiety disorders are on the rise among children, and anxiety tends to spike during the school year. A study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics estimates that approximately 2 million American children and adolescents have a diagnosable anxiety disorder.
One of the difficult parts of getting help for children suffering from anxiety is that anxiety often presents as a constellation of negative behaviors. Parents and educators are quick to spot the behavior problem, but they don’t always see the underlying anxiety that drives it.
More commonly referred to as teenage depression, this mental and emotional disorder is no different medically from adult depression. However, symptoms in teens may manifest themselves in different ways than in adults due to the different social and developmental challenges facing teens.
Estimates from a study published in American Family Physician state that up to 15 percent of children and adolescents have some symptoms of depression. The symptoms of depression can often be difficult for parents to spot. Sometimes, depression is confused with the typical feelings of puberty and teenage adjustment.
ADHD is probably one of the more recognizable terms used in Middle and High School. It is one of the first ‘maybes’ teachers and parents consider when a child is disruptive, difficult to contain, fidgety and/or forgetful.
Before exploring treatment options, let’s first explore what ADHD is, and how it may present differently in boys and girls. A common misconception is ADHD diagnoses among boys and young men have been increasing, while the true statistics indicate diagnoses to be increasing most among young women and mothers. It is important to understand ADHD is not the result of bad parenting, or a poor upbringing. There are of course methods to improve the development of a child with ADHD, but the core deficit arises from the biochemistry of the brain.
Play is the language of children and through this creative and emotionally expressive “language,” a child approaches the issues that most impact his/her life. Play therapy is a therapeutic modality that uses the language of play along with the language of words. In a therapy session, a child may use play to express his/her issues clearly and directly; for example a child with medical problems may play doctor repeatedly, thus gaining mastery and control of an anxiety producing situation. Sometimes the child uses metaphor and fantasy; for example, a child whose parents are involved in a custody struggle, may play out a battle scene with dinosaurs and tigers in which neither side wins. The child may or may not own the story as representing his or her actual life experiences, but the play itself is healing, just as talking though a difficult problem with a therapist is healing for an adult.