What does Anxiety Look Like in Children and How to Help?

What does Anxiety Look Like in Children and How to Help?

When children are young, they often do not have developmental skills to effectively communicate their feelings of anxiousness and stress to parents, although children feel anxiety and stress just like their parents. Anxiety can have a significant impact on your child’s daily life, school, and relationships. Here are some signs to look out for and some ways which you can support your anxious child:

Some level of anxiety in children is developmentally normal at different ages. Separation anxiety is normal for children about 6 months through preschool years, and short lived fears of things such as the dark, strangers, animals, and storms are developmentally appropriate. It is when these fears do not seem to go away with development and are severe enough to have a significant impact on the child’s ability to do typical things such as go to school, sleep at night, relate with peers, and generally function in daily life should you seek treatment for a possible anxiety related disorder.

Anxiety often manifests itself as physical symptoms in children, as they may not have the skill set to fully understand their emotional experience quite yet. Here are some signs of anxiety you can look out for both emotionally and physically:

– In young children, separation anxiety is a common expression of anxiety (becoming very afraid when separated from parents/ very ‘clingy’). Separation anxiety is developmentally normal for children 6 months to 3 years old, but as they grow up, separation anxiety should lessen

– Stomach aches or gastrointestinal problems that seem to coincide with potentially anxiety provoking situations such as going to school, sports practice, being separated, etc.

– Wetting the bed often

– Being generally afraid or anxious of social situations (possible social anxiety)

– Asking a lot of “what if” questions and/or being significantly worried about the future or the possibility of bad things happening

– Your child appears especially irritable or angry often

– Your child experiences sudden episodes of rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty, otherwise known as panic attacks

– Trouble sleeping- falling asleep or staying asleep

– Refusing to go to school

– Low self esteem, lacking confidence

 

When you suspect your child might be experiencing anxiety, here are some ways which you might support them and help them understand their own experience aside from seeking help from a professional such as a pediatrician, primary care doctor, or mental health professional:

– As children can have difficulty expressing themselves or might tend to keep worried inside, you can help them use words to identify their emotions

– Prioritizing a healthy, balanced diet

– Participating in physical activity for at least an hour a day and encouraging outdoor play

– Establishing a consistent bed-time and nighttime routine and prioritizing adequate sleep

– Practice breathing techniques and mindfulness exercises with your child to help them calm their body and mind: – https://www.exceptionalmindset.org/post/mindful-breathing-exercises-for-kids – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiMb2Bw4Ae8

More Resources: https://www.youngminds.org.uk/parent/parents-a-z-mental-health-guide/anxiety/ This one is great!

https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/The-Anxious-Child-047.aspx

https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/depression.html

https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/children-and-young-adults/advice-for-parents/anxiety-in-children/

 

Written by: Alison Meany, Doctoral Student

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