It’s tough to have an anxious kid. Watching your child struggle with imagined fears on a day-to-day basis can be heartbreaking, because it makes you feel helpless as a parent. You wish you could just climb inside their head, erase all the things that are troubling them and make them understand that they really are going to be okay.
Every child gets anxious sometimes: when they get left at preschool for the first time, when they have to present a project in front of the class, when they’re worried about making the track team or passing the spelling test. Anxiety is a perfectly normal, human response.
But when it takes over and starts causing crippling fear that affects your child’s quality of life, you have a problem. When your child can’t fall asleep at night because she’s terrified of the dark, or refuses to go to school because she doesn’t want to be separated from you, the anxiety is having a negative impact on her life, and it’s important to step in and help.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that if these kids are left untreated, they have a higher risk of performing poorly in school and missing out on important social experiences. In some cases this can make them more likely to turn to substance abuse when they’re teens.
I know that sounds scary, but thankfully there is help for worried kids. Here’s the tricky thing, though: sometimes it can be hard to actually know that your kid is suffering from chronic anxiety.
As a rule, kids don’t talk about it much. They just feel how they feel, and they don’t know the word for it. That’s why it’s important to pick up on the cues.
All kids can be clingy sometimes, or cry when you leave them with a babysitter or at daycare. All kids can get scared by something they see on TV and have trouble getting to sleep sometimes. So how do you know if your child is actually suffering from a disorder that causes constant fear and worry?
Here are the top three signs.
1. Constant worry and negative thinking
Children with high anxiety are usually thinking of the worst case scenario. If they freak out every time you leave them at daycare or kindergarten, for example, they might thinking of you being in a car accident or getting hurt in some way.
This negative thinking can also extend to themselves, and older kids may be worrying they will never be able to make the basketball team or sing the song in the talent show etc. They might regularly say things like, “What’s the point, I’m not going to make it,” or “Everyone will just laugh at me.” They can also worry about being hurt, getting sick or dying.
2. Emotional outbursts.
Kids with anxiety are living in a private and unhappy little world that they often can’t express with words. This makes them much more likely to act out with anger, aggression and general irritability. They can cry easily, and may fight with siblings as an outlet to their distress as well.
3. Physical complaints
It’s very common for kids suffering from chronic worry to complain of phantom illnesses that come and go, such as headaches and stomach aches. If your child says she has a stomach ache every morning before school and doesn’t want to go, it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s faking; anxiety can actually cause all kinds of physical symptoms. Your child won’t be able to differentiate between an illness and the effects of her anxiety.
If you suspect that your child might be dealing with more than just the normal worries of childhood, talk to your doctor about finding some resources in your community to help. There are many ways to ease the suffering, such as counselling and peer groups that will help your child not only identify the issues and find ways to cope with them, but will also help him see that he’s not the only one struggling with them.
On the topic of anxiety, did you know that lack of sleep can contribute to feelings of anxiousness? If your toddler is struggling with sleep, you can check out The Sleep Sense Program. It’s a step-by-step system designed to get your child sleeping 11+ hours a night.