August 10, 2018

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

Break the cycle of anxiety, help children reach their full potential

David BethuramAnxiety disorders are the most common disorders in children, and affect one in five kids.

It is common for children to complain of butterflies in their stomach. However, when the “butterflies” have a negative effect on a child’s ability to function at school, home or in other areas of life, the issue is likely childhood anxiety.

Common symptoms of anxiety disorders in children are: stomachaches, headaches, sweating, and poor concentration and attention. Children with anxiety disorders are not easily reassured, may be argumentative, or may throw a tantrum related to the anxiety-causing event. Many parents struggle in getting them out the door to school. Children may say that they “hate” school when, in fact, they are suffering from school-related anxiety.

The circle of anxiety can start with thoughts like: “What if no one likes me?” or “What if I get picked on?” These thoughts impact emotions, building a sense of worry or fear. These emotions can be strong enough to then cause physical symptoms, or a child will often react with tantrums and/or avoidance behaviors. These behaviors are what parents often see and cause frustration.

Some amount of anxiety is normal and even beneficial. It can help us perform better by heightening our senses. Anxiety becomes a problem if it keeps our children from performing to their abilities.

Children learn that once they change their thought process in the circle of anxiety, they have an easier time controlling their emotions and therefore lessen their physical symptoms. There is very strong research that shows that brief counseling can reduce childhood anxiety.

What can you do to help a child at home? Challenge the thought:

• Child: “I’m going to die if I have to perform at the concert tonight!”

• Parent: “Are you really going to die if you perform?”

• Child: “I had a horrible game! I didn’t do anything right!”

• Parent: “Nothing? You didn’t get any points? No rebounds?”

• Child: “The teacher never calls on me! She hates me!”

• Parent: “You have never once been called on this whole year?”

It is also important that parents respond empathetically:

• Child: “Nobody asks me to be partners with them during class.”

• Parent: “That must be tough. How can you solve this problem?”

Breaking the cycle of anxiety is important to help children recognize and reach their full potential.

The goal of Catholic Charities’ Counseling Services is to help children reduce their anxiety by helping them understand that there are things they can do to decrease it. We teach kids strategies they can use when they experience anxiety that will help them work through it and move beyond it.

Our confidential counseling services help people of all ages who are struggling with stress, depression, anxiety or other life issues in a caring and supportive environment. Our programs provide quality mental health counseling services for individuals, couples and families who are in need of outpatient psychotherapy.

Counseling services are available at our Indianapolis, New Albany and Bloomington offices. Insurance is accepted, and affordable options are available based on a sliding scale fee, based on income.

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at

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