Understanding Anxiety in Children: Signs & Symptoms
Life can throw many triggers at us, creating stress and anxiety - think starting a new job, moving house, having many looming deadlines at work or family responsibilities and issues.
As adults, these are issues that we can all relate to, but do you remember the triggers that made you feel anxious and stressed when you were a child? Things like being afraid of spiders, the dark, bullying or just having to go to school every day and be away from your family.
We may have more chance of remembering our teenage fears and anxieties when our bodies were changing. We worried about fitting in socially, exams and trying to get a place on a school team.
Times have certainly changed from when we were kids, which means that we might not be as in tune to the triggers that are currently causing our own kids' trouble. This is where being able to spot some signs that your child might be anxious or feeling stressed can be useful.
Here are some of the key areas with signs that you might notice:
1. Physical signs
Who hasn’t felt like they have butterflies or knots in their stomach when they feel anxious? Kids having these feelings might express themselves by complaining of
- Stomach aches or feeling sick.
- Not wanting to eat.
Also, when stress triggers our natural fight, flight or freeze response, the increased adrenaline in our body automatically causes physical changes. Look out for children and teens with
- Fast breathing.
- Sweaty palms or general sweating.
- Physically tense or complaining of tight shoulders.
2. Mood changes
Like adults, if kids or teens are stressed it can affect their mood. Look out for
- Agitation or being quickly angered over small things.
- Worrying excessively.
- Being clingy or crying easily.Being shy or fearful.
- Fidgety and have trouble concentrating.
- Trying to avoid going places or doing things “Will you do this for me?”
3. Sleep changes
When kids have things on their minds, their sleep can be affected. Look out for changes in sleep patterns.
- Trouble getting to sleep.
- Waking in the night, sometimes with night terrors.
- Needing someone with them when they go to sleep.
What do we do if we notice something?
Firstly, anxiety is normal and everyone adult, teen or child will experience it many times throughout their lives. If you notice your child is experiencing some of the symptoms above, then it would be great to sit down and discuss what is going on.
Acknowledgment – Recognising a stressor or something causing anxiety is the first step forwards.
It is great to explain that it is ok to be stressed about things. You can explain that worrying is a normal human emotion and is how we kept ourselves safe during ‘caveman times’.
Avoidance - If your child is trying to avoid situations, try to support them to be able to deal with them. Perhaps, help make a plan of how they could do it or look at scenarios that they might be afraid of. Praise and encourage them with moving forwards.
Encourage – Get your child to talk about their fears or the situation that is bothering them and encourage them to think of solutions. You can then reinforce these by telling them how well they are handling things.
Try not to criticise or dismiss their fears as being unfounded. It may not be logical to an adult but to a child these fears are real. It can be hard but try to keep encouraging them and discussing issues.
Routines – Knowing what to expect in a day can help with reassurance. This is where sticking to routines can be soothing to a child who is feeling anxious. This is especially so when they surround an activity where anxiety is developing e.g at bed times. In this instance stick to bedtimes and try to introduce soothing rituals at night for relaxation.
Alongside reassurance, BraveFace has new products on the horizon that can help support your child through feelings of anxiety, by helping support these subconscious reactions to stressors.
When to look for more help
As we have said being anxious is normal for all of us. However, you might like to seek further help if
- Anxiety persists after your continued support and reassurance.
- If anxiety is becoming a permanent long-term part of your child’s life.
- If it is affecting their lives by limiting things they will do such as – attending school, joining clubs, making friends.
Here are some amazing resources we have found that might help you find further support.