Kids with anxiety can be a real challenge for parents to recognize. As you would expect, the biggest reason may be that children don’t yet have the ability to fully express themselves verbally.
They’re unable to say to you, “Going to the playground today is causing me some anxiety, so I don’t want to go.”
The 2018 Children’s Mental Health Report concludes that “at some point, anxiety affects 30% of children and adolescents, yet 80% never get help.”
“Untreated anxiety disorders are linked to depression, school failure and a two-fold increase in risk for substance use disorder,” the report says. It’s what is known as “a gateway disorder.”
That can (and should be) of real concern to parents everywhere.
Thankfully Childmind.org has some information for parents that will make recognizing anxiety in kids much, much easier.
Symptoms of Anxiety in Kids
Note: Before you attribute your child’s physical symptoms to anxiety, be sure to have a checkup with your doctor to rule out any medical problems.
If your child frequently visits the school nurse, this could be an important sign he or she is struggling with anxiety.
Tummy Aches – This is a very common complaint that kids with anxiety often repeat again and again. They feel the nervousness in their stomach, the way we all have at one time or another, and it feels bad. It’s easy for them to say “my tummy hurts” because it does.
Headaches – Kids will usually say “my head hurts,” rather than “I have a headache.”
Muscle Aches – This could sound like, “My legs hurt,” or “I don’t feel good all over.”
When a child is anxious about a situation, they may simply avoid any activity or place that triggers the feeling.
For example, if they’re afraid of a certain dog, they’ll do everything they can to avoid the dog.
The emotion that’s sometimes easiest for kids to express is anger. An explosive outburst could mean that they’re feelings are too big and too intense for them to express any other way.
If you ask them why they’re angry, they really may not know. They just feel angry.
If you’ve ever tried to get a kiddo to do something they don’t want to do, you know how frustrating it can be.
When they absolutely refuse to do what you ask, anxiety could be behind their stubbornness.
Nope! I am not going to put on my shoes because I know shoes on means you are about to take me to daycare and that makes me feel nervous.
Hiding behind Mom or bowing their head and staring at the ground may be something you should take a look at.
The report says that children who are in extreme distress are dismissed as shy and expected to “grow out of it.”
What To Do Next
All this information may feel completely overwhelming for parents because we’ve all seen these behaviors in our kids, right?
The good news is that anxiety in kids is treatable and there is help.
First, if you suspect your child is struggling with anxiety, have a conversation with their pediatrician about next steps. They can point you in the direction of folks who have experience helping kids.
You’ll also find some great tips for concerned parents on ChildMind.org. It’s worth your time to read because it will tell you some specific ways you can start to help your child right away.
You may also want to check out a book called What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (What-to-Do Guides for Kids).
It’s a Gold NAPPA (National Parenting Publications Awards) winner and parents across the world are using it with real success.
In closing, recognize that you are a good parent for wanting to better understand your child’s feelings. Good for you for choosing to dig a little deeper into the things your kiddo does to make sure there isn’t a larger problem hiding there.
Do you have a child who suffers from anxiety? How did you recognize it? What do you do to help?
If you are going through this, sharing ideas and experiences can help. It would be great if you’d share your insight or questions in the comments. We’d love to know what you have to say.
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