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We all have anxiety at some time or another and children are no exception. Stressful situations of any kind can make a child feel worried or anxious at home, at school and in the community. But when does normal anxiety in childhood become a childhood anxiety disorder? When is it enough to comfort or distract your child from momentary stress and when is it something much more pervasive or debilitating? Look for some of these warning signs to help you know when to get more help for your anxious child and what you can do about it.
The warning signs of anxiety in children
Every child, just like adults, will have anxious moments at times. But some children have an anxiety disorder that goes beyond typical childhood worries and can cause them to have trouble functioning. If you think your child might have anxiety, look for warning signs such as trouble sleeping, decreased or increased appetite, recurring headaches or stomach aches, restlessness, and even irritability and tantrums. Sometimes childhood anxiety can look like defiance or even violence, when it’s really a child acting out of fear. If you think your child matches some of these symptoms, it may be time to call your pediatrician or family doctor for further information. There is help for childhood anxiety, so don’t be afraid to get help for your child.
Anxiety in children takes different forms depending on age
Anxiety, especially in children, can take on many forms. It is normal for very young children to feel some anxiety at being apart from their parents for the first few times, but if this fear does not subside, your child may have separation anxiety disorder.
Many other signs may indicate that you have a generally anxious child including extreme fears, noise sensitivity and other tactile sensitivities, inability to cope with routine changes, unwillingness to try new things such as different activities or new foods, becoming easily overwhelmed, and difficulty in sleeping alone. If you suspect your toddler may be exhibiting signs of anxiety, it is important to speak to a professional such as your doctor or a child therapist. You can learn to take an approach that helps them to become more resilient and begin teaching them mechanisms to help them cope when they feel anxious.
In older kids, some signs to be on the lookout for include frequently complaining of stomach aches or headaches, and difficulty in falling asleep because of something that is on their mind. An anxious child may be extremely clingy and cry often or may have exaggerated or unreasonable fears. Nightmares are common in children with anxiety.
Your child may not want to play with other children and may avoid participating in classroom activities. They may not want to speak in public (such as in front of the class) and will try to avoid any challenging tasks. A trained therapist will be able to assist in diagnosis of an anxiety disorder and will be able to teach you and your child techniques to manage worries, fears and anxiety.
Is your kid really suffering from anxiety?
It is important to remember that all children have anxious moments. Childhood is characterized by discovery, but learning about the unknown can not only be fun, but also intimidating, which can cause some anxiety in your child. There are questions you can ask yourself in order to determine whether or not you need to be concerned about an anxiety disorder in your child.
- Are your child’s fears excessive? All school-aged children, for example, worry about homework and tests; but, are those fears so excessive or all-consuming that it disturbs their sleep, affects their appetite, results in avoidance behavior and/or makes them uncharacteristically defiant?
- Does your child worry about things you would otherwise expect them to be excited about such as birthday parties, recess, and playtime with friends, or lunchtime?
- Are your child’s fears age-appropriate? For example, it is normal for babies and very young children to have separation anxiety or fear of being away from their parents, but when a child above the age of 5 has this kind of fear, it is a cause for concern. If you suspect your child has an anxiety disorder, the best thing to do is to be encouraging and to lovingly insist they face their fears. It is paramount that the child begins to understand that fears you avoid or hide from become stronger; but fears that are faced head-on lose their “scary factor” thereby weakening in power and influence over them
Gather a team to support you in dealing with your child’s anxiety
Anxiety manifests itself in children in many different ways and situations. Sometimes anxious children are clearly anxious, like textbook anxious, and they openly worry and stress about everything and anything.
Some little people turn into human demons and are just so incredibly naughty, that at times, you are tempted to sell them online. Others just retreat into themselves or a solitary activity. Other indicators can be limited friendships being formed, over obsessive about structure and rules, poor sleep, and poor eating.
The most useful thing for us when we realized our son suffered with anxiety was gathering a support team, who helped us negotiate our way through it.