You’re noticing something’s bugging your child. He seems to have more worries lately. You’re thinking “Are these worries normal for a kid his age? How much is too much?”
Before you get too worried, let me first start by saying anxiety can be a good thing. It encourages us to act when something doesn’t feel right.
For example, your child sees a stranger down the street and gets a bad feeling in his gut. He goes inside the house, just to be safe.
Another example: your child is worried about his math test tomorrow so he spends an extra hour reviewing the material so he gets a good grade.
These are examples of productive, healthy, and helpful anxiety.
But what happens when anxiety isn’t productive? What happens when it interferes in your child’s life instead of motivates him?
For example, your child is fearful of his teacher and won’t leave your side to go to class….and school started a month ago.
Or during your child’s test his hands are shaking, he’s panicky, and his mind go blank. He can’t answer any of the questions and fails the exam.
This is when anxiety is a problem. Your child is no longer able to control the worry. And it seems like the anxiety is there more often than not.
How can I tell if my child has anxiety?
Here are some signs:
Feeling restless or on edge: Does he bite his nails, move around a lot, or bounce his legs? It’s like you can see your child’s anxiety.
Difficulty concentrating: This is a big time problem for school success, and is oftentimes confused with ADD/ADHD. If there’s lot of thoughts swirling around in your child’s brain, how is it possible to focus?
Irritability: Seeing more opposition and defiance lately? If life doesn’t feel good your child is not going to be on his best behavior.
Muscles tension: Headaches are a common sign of stress-induced muscle tension.
Sleep disturbance: Is your child having difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or having nightmares? Sleep disturbances also impact mood, and contributes to irritability and poor concentration.
What makes my child anxious?
Worries about separating from parent: This is known as separation anxiety. It is more common in young children but can occur in older children and adults, as well.
Specific phobia: Shots at an upcoming doctor’s appointment, or a presentation in front of the class, can trigger specific fears.
Worries about being worried: When uncomfortable sensations in the body trigger a panicky sensation, this is called a panic attack.
Bereavement: A loved one dying can produce a lot of anxiety in children.
Social situations: Discomfort in social situations, called social anxiety, is typically because your child fears being judged.
A past traumatic event: Anxiety as part of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can come in the form of intrusive thoughts and flashbacks and can be debilitating.
Everything (or at least most things): Generalized Anxiety Disorder is when your child has persistent worrying about a number of events or things in his life.
When does my child need professional help?
If anxiety is impairing your child’s functioning at school, impacting his grades, interfering with positive social relationships, affects quality of life at home, or is the result of trauma, your child may benefit from an assessment by a mental health professional.
What can be done about my child’s anxiety?
A mental health professional can help your child reduce the anxiety and improve your child’s quality of life. Your child will learn to:
Gain insight into why anxiety is occurring: Getting to the bottom of the issue is essential! Knowing the “why” helps with figuring out a treatment plan. For example: Is your child afraid of riding the school bus, or is he worried about meeting new people on the school bus? Seems like a small difference but the answer will help your child’s therapist determine which direction is best for treating your child.
Increase understanding of the anxious feelings: Therapy will help your child understand why his body has all those uncomfortable sensations, and where the feelings are coming from. This can help take some of the worry out of the anxiety.
Challenge the thinking that creates the anxiety: Thoughts affect feelings, which affect behavior. If your child can change the negative thoughts that feed the anxiety, he won’t feel as worried, and then he will start to improve whatever is being impacted.
Improve coping skills for dealing with the anxiety: Anxiety is a part of life so learning to cope with it is essential. Does your child know he can ask for help? That he can breathe to help calm down? Or say phrases that are soothing? These are just a few examples of coping skills your child can learn.
Bottom line: Anxiety is a normal part of life but it can grow into a problem. Recognizing the signs early and intervening by getting your child help is the best way to address it.
Please comment below: Has your child ever had anxiety? What did you see and how did you help your child?
Jenmarie Eadie is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who is passionate about helping children to become less stressed by giving them and their parents tools, support and encouragement. She received her Master’s in Social Work from Arizona State with a dual concentration in Children, Youth, and Families; and Behavioral Health. Her proudest accomplishment is following her dream of opening up a practice that is designed to focus on the whole family. She currently serves families in Southern California.