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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23 comments on “Kids With Anxiety Often Complain of Stomach Pains and Headaches”
I have just recently come to notice things my 3 year old is doing and saying that makes me think she may have anxiety.
Question: My daughter will get headaches at school, several times she has told me “Mommy, it’s too bright outside. My head hurts” but I have chronic migraine and she had infantile migraine and her pediatrician has said he thinks she is still getting them from the bright sun. Is it possible she’s having anxiety instead of migraines? She hasn’t ever complained of a tummy ache and the headaches only seem to come on in the summer months when she is outside a lot.
My daughter has high anxiety. I took her for counseling and the counselor told me she was just misbehaving and acting like that for attention from me. So they sent us to a psychiatrist. She told me my daughter suffers from PANDAS disease and told me what vitamins, essential oils and cbd oil to use for her. Also paid attention to her triggers that give her anxiety I made a journal to help figure those out. We still have bad days but more good than bad.
My son is 13 yrs old n has anxiety. I’ve tried everything I can to get help for him. Nothing seems to help. Is there anymore advice you have that might help him n myself
I also have a 13 yr old with severe anxiety she has expressed with anger since the age of 2. I finally started her on prescription meds at 10 with some success. I could always tell when she had not taken her medicine in a few days because she would have an anger blowout. The problem was the medicine did not make HER feel better. About a month ago her behavioral health provider switched her to generic Lexapro. Since then, my daughter is amazed about how “happy” she has been, instead of angry, and how “good” she feels. As a Nurse Practitioner, I know that meds for kids aren’t for everyone, but feel that if we, as parents of children with mental health problems, do not try ALL available treatment options when others haven’t worked, are doing a disservice and depriving our children of the opportunity to feel what it is to be “normal”, carefree, and happy children. Meds. DO work
I was a very anxious child too. In my case the reason was esoterical. I am an intuitive empath. We absorb other people’s emotions and think they are our own. Connect with a medium or energy healer to see if your child is in fact psychic and/or an intuitive empath.