Children feel the consequences of stress – it’s not just an adult issue. I think this is an extremely important topic because the coping mechanisms developed when you’re young continue into adulthood. To combat this cycle, I’m going to share emotional and physical signs of anxiety in children that you should be on the lookout for…
…and what you can do to help!
Youth is all about learning lessons. Some are pleasurable while others are less so.
Some may even be traumatic.
A good example of this is learning how to ride a bike. As an adult, we take hard-won skills for granted – but when you’re 3, 4 or 5 falling off your bike is part of the drill along with the cuts, scrapes, and bumps.
Not All Children Develop the Same Coping Mechanisms
This is true for children even in the most stable of environments.
…but what if life isn’t straightforward? Possibly your child was simply born with a nervous or inhibited temperament? Maybe they live in an abusive environment or what if they have attention issues that complicate school, family and social interaction?
Obviously a child who has these characteristics will be more likely to suffer from childhood anxiety.
Don't Miss the Red Flags: Signs of Anxiety in Children
Sadly in my line of work, I see these red flags go unnoticed by family, school, and friends, until the quality of life is so impacted that people come to see me.
My goal is to raise awareness so signs of childhood anxiety are immediately recognized.
The brain is a fascinating, time-saving beast. It has fast-tracked responses to certain situations so you don’t even have to think about reacting, you just do. This becomes a problem, though, when your automatic response is one of fear in situations where, in reality, there’s nothing to be afraid of.
The sooner these kids get intervention, the sooner they can change their circumstances. No one has to live with turmoil. I’m not a fan of the stiff upper lip approach as you can imagine.
The good news is there is so much that can be done to achieve inner peace. Why learn to live with it when you can change it?
Did you know children manifest anxiety both physiologically & emotionally? Yep.
Let’s check out how this works now:
Physiological Signs of Anxiety in Children:
1. Your child suffers from a nervous stomach:
Inexplicable nausea and aversion to food may be a signal that your child is suffering from anxiety. It is important that you see a doctor about this to rule out medical reasons before you make this assumption. That being said, this is one of the most common symptoms I see in my office.
Once again you should consult your family doctor to make sure there is no medical reason for headaches - but headaches are another common physical signs of anxiety in children.
3. Aversion to using restrooms:
Does your child avoid using bathrooms at school or in public places? This could be another warning that you need to dig deeper into their feelings.
Your child has a difficult time sitting still in class or at home, may struggle to relax or sleep. This symptom is also attached to attention disorders like ADD and ADHD. It is important to get an assessment if you feel this may be related. Please note: anxiety is more prevalent in children who have issues with executive functioning. So there is some cross over here.
5. Nervous hands and sweating:
Does your child shake and or sweat when they encounter difficult situations? Signs of children with anxiety are often quite obvious.
Emotional Signs of Children with Anxiety:
Does your child cry at the drop of the hat? Do they lash out in a way that is disproportionate to the situation at hand? Are they easily irritated? Hypersensitivity is a very strong signal that something more is going on.
2. Perfectionism or extreme fear of failure:
Does your child dread making mistakes? Possibly they are paralyzed by fear that they will do something “wrong”. This can also bleed into exams.
3. Phobias and panic attacks:
Does your child have irrational fears? Do they suffer from panic attacks when confronted with something they perceive as stressful? This is a core issue for identifying children that are suffering from anxiety.
4. Constantly worries and wonders “What if....?”:
Is your child concerned about the most mundane of tasks? The "what if" line of thinking has taken over and they don’t feel safe when it comes to the every day details of life.
5. Obsessive compulsive thinking & actions:
Does your child tap his or her feet, fingers or pace? Possibly they obsessively check the doors to make sure they are locked before going to bed. Another red flag is performing rituals that make them feel “safe” such as compulsive hand washing to avoid contact with germs.
6. Frequent nightmares:
Your child has regular nightmares or wets the bed. This may also be a cry for help.
7. Withdrawal from social interaction:
Your child doesn’t want to go to school, join group activities or socialize with his or her peers.
These signs of anxiety in children can be super scary. Let’s face it if you think there is something wrong with your child you want to get to the bottom of it. The good news is there’s help!
So much can be done to retrain the brain to handle stress in a better way…
…resulting in a happier child!
I bet you’re asking yourself right now what you should do. Well, I have some suggestions that you can get to work on today!
What YOU Can Do NOW
Don’t try to get RID of the anxiety:
Well the first step is NOT to fix it. Yes you heard me right. The road to hell is paved with good intentions as they say. Anxiety is a necessary function. For your child to thrive and survive in this world they absolutely NEED it. Although there may be better ways to deal with it, which I will be sharing.
Don’t avoid stress inducing situations
I had a client whose child was terrified to use any bathroom other than the one at home. Take baby steps but don’t immediately indulge your child’s request. Caving in will lead them to believe that you buy into their anxiety. This will reinforce their fears. If you indulge them you’re actually creating a cycle that will be VERY difficult to break later on.
Stop explaining the anxiety away:
Anxiety isn't rational – so trying to rationalize it is counter productive. Stop and listen to your child’s fears. Let them know you understand and are there for them - BUT don't over talk it. This can have the exact opposite effect.
Give them space:
Yep. You can’t solve your child’s problems and trying to do so will only give their fears a life of their own. With time and work your child can and will have a better life. Have faith.
Let Them Know Why Fear Is A GOOD Thing:
Fear of the fear is part of the cycle. It’s important to educate your child and let them know how anxiety, in it’s right place keeps them safe. Sadly, I know too many parents that don't stress this point.
Feel the fear and do it anyway!:
Gradually and lovingly encourage your child to face their fears – after all they have super powers that will protect them. This is something you can work with and have fun developing. Make it into a game and have PATIENCE. This won’t happen overnight.
A great psychotherapist can work wonders with a child who is suffering from anxiety. At Holistic Neurodevelopment we use Equestrian Therapy to help our kids learn new ways of coping, if traditional methods don’t work.
Anxiety is often inherited. Maybe there are things you can do manage your own stress that will help your child feel better in the long run. This is a very important ingredient.
Take up meditation or mindful activities:
Teach your child early on how to take charge of anxiety by practicing meditation or a hobby such as knitting or painting that encourages mindfulness. It’s a beautiful thing!
Are you over scheduling your child? Maybe you are trying to provide them with every opportunity. TV, electronic gadgets and constant activity causes anxiety. Take some R&R time, get outside, go hiking and unplug. One of the most important strategies is to get PRESENT with your kids and enjoy life.
Learning to Live in a Busy World
Life is never simple and learning to cope with anxiety and stress is part of the human condition.
Everyone has stress. It is a normal part of life. You can feel stress in your body when you have too much to do or when you haven’t slept well. You can also feel stress when you worry about things like your job, money, relationships, or a friend or family member who is ill or in crisis. Stress: Coping with Everyday Problems, MHA
It’s easy to get lost in unhealthy cycles…
…in fact, I think we have all done so at one point in our lives. The important thing is to be aware of the signs of anxiety in children and to act as soon as you see the red flags. Take charge today and your child will live a healthier and happier life.
Phone Number: +1 509-844-6279
504 Main, Suite 422
Lewiston, ID 83501
504 Main, Suite 422
Lewiston, ID 83501