Anxiety in kids is a lot more common than we adults acknowledge. So I decided to start writing a bit more about anxiety and how it manifests in kids' behavior. Believe it or not even toddlers and babies experience anxiety.
I have a child who suffers a great deal from anxiety. His anxiety manifests into OCD type behavior where he asks the same question again and again. It also shows up in explosive behavior at home. He has trouble sitting in any uncertain situation or time period.
One important point is that a child's worries are not necessarily immediately recognized by an adult. A child's view and experience in the world varies greatly from an adult. So, understanding anxiety in kids not only requires us to recognize the signs and the behaviors but also requires us to shift our perspective.
Anxiety in Kids – What Parents Need to Know
Kids may worry about grades, fitting in at school, or soccer practice being canceled. My son worries about how to fill up his time. In other words, he dislikes being bored, which is okay but then he gets caught in a serious spiral. Unlike other children who may feel frustrated with not knowing how to fill their time but recover quickly to go ride a bike or build with legos, anxious kids can easily get stuck.
Most kids’ worries come and go; children are able to forget their fears when they are absorbed in a game, concentrating on homework, or surrounded by friends.
Child Anxiety Symptoms
According to the Harvard Health Blog, “Anxious children may be clingy, startle easily, cry or have tantrums, sleep poorly, and have headaches or stomachaches. But anxiety is not all bad.” I love that ending because it rings so true in our home where the anxiety comes alongside extreme intelligence and creativity. Gifted children often struggle a great deal with anxiety.
Some children’s anxiety is more persistent. Distraction doesn't work for these kids. Their fears distract them from becoming engaged in life. Anxiety that hangs on and will not go away, that has no apparent source but may be directed toward any cause, is known as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). When a child has been suffering in this way for a period of six months or longer, he may be diagnosed with GAD.
Children suffering from generalized anxiety feel excessive worry that is not focussed on just one trigger. Their worry may range from mild to debilitating. Because they are young and inexperienced, they cannot tell that their worry is out of proportion to reality.
Generalized anxiety is thought to be caused by a combination of physical and environmental factors. According to mayoclinic.com, an imbalance of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine in the brain may cause anxiety disorders.
Genetic predisposition to anxiety can also lead to the illness, as can trauma and stress. Usually, several factors work together to trigger the condition. A combination of psychotherapy and medication is normally the most effective treatment for sufferers of GAD.
You can take steps to help your child with her anxiety symptoms. Create a trigger list and come up with “go-to” solutions to help ease anxiety. For example, reading about kids with anxiety and meditation may help a child deal with these intense emotions. Click here for some amazing ways to meditate with kids.
With that said, these steps should be used in conjunction with professional treatment. Helping your child maintain a stable and healthy lifestyle will help her emotions.
How to Help a Child with Anxiety
Adequate sleep is crucial for regulating anxiety. Stabilizing your child’s blood sugar levels can also help. Give him frequent small meals, limit simple sugars, and make sure he consumes adequate protein and whole grains. Exercise will help your child burn off excess adrenaline and calm his body.
Your response to your child’s anxiety can also help her cope with her disorder. Remember that she is not worrying on purpose, and she cannot “just stop.” Understand that it will take a long time for your child to learn new patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving and that she must have help in that process.
Take your child’s expressed emotions at face-value. She is feeling a strong emotion, not dramatizing or manipulating. Communicate that you grasp the intensity of her emotions, and avoid either minimizing or exaggerating her feelings. Ask questions about what she is experiencing, thinking, and feeling physically and emotionally.
Generalized anxiety disorder is a heavy burden for a child to carry. With professional help and your support, your child can feel that burden lifting and can learn to experience the lightheartedness of a normal childhood.