Anxiety In Children: When To Worry

Children do experience anxiety from time to time, due to certain situations or changes from their typical routine. Joining a new school, losing a pet, moving to a new home can bring about some amount of anxiety. New situations like trying out a pool for the first time, sleeping in their own room alone or encountering a big dog can cause a child to feel uneasy. It is natural for kids to feel nervous or cling to their parents in such situations. Most times, with a little reassurance or support, children get over their anxiety and in most situations without their anxiety manifesting itself into paralyzing fear. As parents, it may not always be easy to know when your child’s anxiety is expected and natural and when it needs help. When should you worry about your child’s anxiety and when can you let it pass. Read to find out more.

Common Anxiety

Anxiety is an important and necessary emotion. It can be useful for children and adults as well, in dangerous situations. Like, knowing not to lean over the edge of a balcony is because we feel anxious and this keeps us safe. 

At different stages of childhood, there are certain situations that generally cause children anxiety. This means that it is expected and typical for your child to show anxiety in these situations. Babies can feel anxious around strangers and loud noises, toddlers about separation, young children about the dark and imaginary monsters, getting lost or death. Between ages 5-7 years, children get anxious about natural disasters, going to school and children of ages 7-12 may experience social anxiety, performance anxiety and worry about safety. Understanding what is a common source of anxiety can put parents at ease about what their child is experiencing.

Regardless of age, a new situation can also cause anxiety in a child. Going to the dentist for the first time or trying to pet an animal for the first time. While most children will get over their fears with time, for children with clinical anxiety, even trivial things can cause distress and their symptoms might get more intense over time if not rightly addressed. 

What anxiety can look like in children

Anxiety may not always be easy to identify in kids. Young children have not yet developed the cognitive ability to identify what they are feeling as anxiety, so it can show up indirectly. A child might often bring up somatic complaints or display clingy and moody behaviour.

 Some of the common ways anxiety can manifest in children are

Physical complaints
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Headaches
  • Stomach ache
  • Racing heart
  • Dizziness
  • Hair pulling
  • Difficulty swallowing. Feeling a “lump in the throat”
  • Fatigue
Emotional Signs
  • Frequent crying
  • Sadness
  • Anger, irritability
  • Low frustration levels
  • Verbal aggression
  • Feeling overwhelmed, lonely
Behavioural Signs
  • Seeking validation
  • Asking the same question over and over again
  • Being clingy, overly concerned about safety
  • Frequent meltdowns
  • Wanting to leave before something is over 
Social Isolation & Avoidance
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Procrastinating
  • Avoiding new situations
  • Not participating in class
Thoughts & Feelings
  • Over planning
  • Negative thought patterns
  • Easily Distracted
  • Nightmares
  • Lack of focus

When to worry: 

A crucial difference between normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder is the intensity of symptoms. Another two ways of identifying clinical anxiety is when it causes avoidance or extreme distress. A child with anxiety might try to completely avoid triggers. A child might feel sick every Monday morning before heading to school or refuse to participate in activities that children his age generally enjoy. 

Extreme distress can manifest through somatic symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, a racing heart or frequent meltdowns, nervousness, all in severe intensity that is far beyond what is expected or typical. When a child’s anxiety is out of proportion, not age-appropriate and disrupts normal day to day activities, these are indicators that the child needs professional help.

What to do:

Most children will outgrow their anxieties as long as they receive the right help and support. As parents, our reactions and how we handle our child’s anxiety can have a big impact. Overly sheltering them from situations that cause them anxiety will not help. Eg: avoiding going to the pool because they are scared of water. This way children miss out on certain experiences and it only adds to their stress. At the same time, dismissing their anxiety as “silly” or “unreasonable” only robs them of the right to express their feelings openly. Children want to be heard and not feel like they need to disguise, suppress or hide their feelings. 

When you notice your child’s anxiety is causing them distress, the first step is to acknowledge the condition. This will prompt you to reach out for help. Consult your child’s doctor or reach out to a psychologist who can conduct a complete evaluation and chalk out the way forward. Depending on the cause and type of anxiety, a therapist will determine the course of treatment. It can range from counselling to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and your support will mean everything to your child.

If your child is experiencing anxiety and you don’t know how to help, reach out to our Specialists at Tactopus. You can reach us at Tactopus for a free consultation and we can help your child mangae their anxiety. 

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