We live in an anxious world, and people’s feelings of anxiety seem to be intensifying and accelerating. Studies show that more people suffer from anxiety disorders today than at any time in the recent past.
Unfortunately, the growth in anxiety isn’t limited to adults. It is on the rise in children as well. 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.
But it can be hard to identify your child’s anxiety, because it manifests in a wide variety of ways. It’s important, therefore, for parents to recognize behaviors that, while not overtly anxious, suggest that a child is grappling with anxiety.
A Washington Post columnist provides a useful list of child anxiety symptoms. While by no means comprehensive, it provides parents with a starting point to help determine if anxiety has become a problem for their child:
The word “anxiety” may conjure images of a quiet worrier, but childhood anxiety wears many different masks. More often than not, symptoms of child anxiety fall into the following categories:
Psychosomatic complaints: Kids don’t usually come home from school saying, “I felt really anxious at school today,” but they do say things like, “I have a terrible stomachache; I can’t go back to school tomorrow.” Frequent stomachaches, headaches and unexplained muscle aches and pains can all be symptoms of anxiety. It’s also important to watch for complaints of chest pain, racing heart, difficulty breathing, dizziness and difficulty swallowing. These can all be symptomatic of a panic attack.
Anger and irritability: Most kids have meltdowns at times when they feel exhausted and overwhelmed. Frequent meltdowns that are lengthy and fueled by anger and irritability, on the other hand, are worth taking a second look. Child anxiety often looks like intense anger and a complete lack of emotional regulation.
Sadness: Anxious kids can appear clingy, overwhelmed and sad. They are likely to burst into tears without explanation.
Isolation and avoidance: Anxious children often engage in social isolation. They avoid additional social interaction beyond school, choosing the safety and comfort of home to recover. They are also master procrastinators and tend to avoid challenges.
Fatigue: Coping with anxiety can be exhausting. Chronic fatigue in a previously active child can be a sign of anxiety.
Poor concentration: Anxiety can make it difficult to focus.
School refusal: School can feel like an exercise in survival for kids with anxiety, and school refusal is often the first red flag parents and educators notice.
Frequent questions: Anxious kids tend to be concerned with personal safety and the safety of family and friends. They ask the same questions repeatedly and seek validation from adults often.
Some anxiety is normal, and in many cases require no parental or professional intervention. If, however, a child experiences anxiety more often than not, so it interferes with her daily life, a visit to the pediatrician might be necessary.
There are also strategies that can be implemented at home with parental help that frequently alleviate symptoms. They include, according to the Post article:
- Mindful/deep breathing
- Progressive muscle relaxation (tensing and relaxing muscle groups to release tension)
- Acknowledging the anxious thought and countering it with a positive one
- Using a worry box to put worries away for later
- “Roses and thorns” journal to get worries out and identify positives
- The basics: healthy eating and sleep habits, plenty of water, and time for free play and exercise
Try these tactics for helping your child’s anxiety and then comment below if they worked!
Read More: Nine Books to Help with Your Child’s Anxiety