Anger is a secondary emotion sitting on top of anxiety, fear, sadness, overwhelm and much more. Working with anxiety and it's sibling depression is like peeling an onion and addressing each of the feelings that arise. Some days, your child may be screaming or throwing a tantrum, while other days there is a rush of flooding tears over seemingly nothing. Your child may complain of stomachaches, headaches, fatigue.
Your teenager may exhibit many of the same symptoms, but they may also make comments demonstrating rumination/overthinking, catastrophizing/worrying that bad things are going to happen, avoiding activities they used to enjoy, or complaining of lots of muscle tension not due to sports or exercise. Teenagers are at greater risk of developing an anxiety disorder because of a combination of life stressors such as stressors at school, with peer pressure, with social media, with relationships, with difficult life circumstances, and even with thoughts about their future.
Signs in children age 12 and younger may include:
-decreased interest in favorite activities
-difficulty initiating and/or maintaining social relationships
-talking about or attempting to run away from home
-extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
-frequent absences from school and/or a sudden decline in grades
-physical symptoms with no medical cause
-frequent sadness, tearfulness or crying
-increased irritability (frequency or severity of tantrums)
-major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
-obsessive fears or worries about death
-thoughts or expressions of suicide or self-harming behavior
Signs in teens may also include (besides those in children):
-increased interest in topics related to death
-increased risk-taking behaviors
-excessive or inappropriate feelings of guilt
-feelings of worthlessness or self-hatred
-trouble making decisions
A child's attachment style is important because it can continue to have an impact on that individual into adulthood relationships. Attachment between children and their caregivers represents the ways one thinks about themselves, others and their relationships. Children who believe that the world is a positive place will be able to rely on other people to help them cope with emotional needs, but children who believe the world cannot support them will feel left on their own to cope.
Although the Avoidant style tends to display a seemingly positive model of self and low anxiety they will try to deal with distress on their own and avoid or dismiss attachment and not seek the caregiver for support. This style typically develops from a rigid approach to caregiving. A foster or adoptive parent may feel unconnected to the child as the child becomes more emotionally distant from them.
Ambivalent and Disorganised styles tend to have a negative model of self and experience high anxiety. They will become preocuppied with attaching and may escalate their attempts to coerce the caregiver's support and love. The Ambivalent style is typically created due to lack of consistent care by a caregiver while the Disorganised style typically develops when a caregiver is a source of threat or fear. A foster or adoptive parent will many times see these styles when a child has been passed from home to home or comes from an abusive home where the child was possibly maltreated.
Many individuals have heard of Fight/Flight/Freeze as normal responses to a traumatic or extremely fearful situation. There are other Nervous System responses - Submit/Appease, Tend/Befriend, Attach/Cry for Help, and Collapse/Shut Down. All of these responses can correlate to attachment styles as mentioned above. Responses seeking connection = fight, appease, tend/befriend, and attach/cry for help. Responses seeking disconnection = flight, freeze, and collapse/shut down.
Children and adolescents with complex trauma often have negative thoughts, emotions, or beliefs about themselves or the world and will many times experience uncomfortable sensations in their body due to living with constant stress. Unaddressed, the affects on the body have been known to develop into chronic physical illnesses carrying into adulthood.
In the cases of complex trauma, typical psychotherapy approaches and amount of sessions are not successful at maintaining prolonged healing because of the deeply rooted issues and needs of the individual which encompasses their entire being - physical, emotional, social, cognitive, spiritual. Evidence shows that to holistically address the individual, a therapist/counselor will need to work with all of these domains while grounding the person in safety - safety in their body, safety in their mind, safety in their emotions, and safety in their beliefs and relationships with self and others.
The effects of ongoing complex trauma on the individual are
wide-ranging and long-term.
Signs & Symptoms of Trauma in School Age Children/Adolescents:
Self-harm urges are not uncommon in adolescents and young adults who will tend to keep it a secret due to feelings of shame. It's normal to need ways to cope with really painful emotions or thoughts. Self-harm is an unhealthy way of coping and can be dangerous. One of the most common methods is cutting with a sharp object, others feel an impulse to burn themselves, pull out their hair, pick at their wounds, hit themselves or throw themselves at hard objects which can lead to broken bones.
Self-harm is associated with anxiety, depression, trauma, eating disorders, and other mental illnesses. By self-harming the individual may be stimulating their endorphins or pain-killing hormones making them feel better for that moment or they may be trying to feel something because of emotional numbness. The cycling feelings of shame and release from emotional pain can lead to a long-time habit.
Caregivers need to be prepared to listen without judgment even though the thought of the self-harm can be uncomfortable. Trying to make the child/adolescent stop can lead to further shame and an increase in hidden self-harm. Offering to be there and to get them help is a crucial first step.
*See the Resources page for further information as well as a crisis line. There are also app ideas once your child/adolescent is in professional therapy and ready to address the self-harm while utilizing healthier coping skills.
Adolescents go through normal moodiness, irritability, and pushing away of a caregiver. Someone with suicidal thoughts may talk about ending their life, feeling hopeless, having no reason to live, being a burden, or feeling trapped. Should you notice indications of hopelessness or worthlessness, withdrawal from normal activities and friendships, or expressions of suicidal thinking, then get support.
Do not be afraid to have a conversation with your child/adolescent about suicide. Listen without judgment, validate their feelings, and resist offering quick solutions. You could say..."It sounds like you've been dealing with a lot lately. Does it ever get so tough that you think about ending your life?"
Call 988 if your child/adolescent is currently in a crisis.
Call 911 if the crisis is immediate!
An officer will transport your child/adolescent to a local hospital for medical care and evaluation.
*See the Resources page for further information. There are also app ideas for your child/adolescent to have a safety plan with them. This safety plan should be developed with a professional therapist and the child/adolescent in order for it to be effectively utilized.