As adults, we can recognise and talk about our feelings about anxiety, but with children, it is a little harder. Children generally cannot directly say that they are feeling anxious so it is important that we learn to recognise the signs.
Below are seven signs to watch out for:
- They constantly think negatively
Pessimism is a clear indicator of anxiety. It can show in the form of always expecting the worst or feeling nervous that something bad will happen. This can show in the form of your child being afraid of going to school in case the car crashes or the house burns down. It can also show in smaller ways too like worrying they will fall over if they run.
- Physical pains
It is common for children with anxiety to experience headaches and stomach pains. Dr M. Greshon has coined the term “second brain” referring to the stomach. Unlike the brain, the stomach can only send physical messages hence the pain signals to the brain. This may come in the form of tightness, butterflies, aches and cramps.
- Everything must be perfect
It is understandable that when your child creates a nice picture they want it to look just as they imagined it but when it takes over other activities it can become intrusive. If they destroy something they have made because of a small mistake or become panicked/enraged, this can be a sign that they have anxiety. Help your child to understand that everyone makes mistakes and that it is okay for things to not be perfect.
This goes hand in hand with perfectionism. Many children and teens often cope with fear or mistakes by putting off doing something. Others’ may procrastinate because they feel overwhelmed, they might think the task is too difficult thus they put it off as long as is possible. You can help your child by breaking tasks into smaller parts so that they feel accomplished and rewarding them after completing each part.
- Sleep problems
Anxious children often find it hard to settle and sleep at night. Setting a bedtime routine can lower anxiety. If your child is worried that you may leave after they fall asleep try checking in on them regularly to reassure them that you are still there.
- Tantrums and crying
Both adults and children with anxiety tend to have irrational fears. Whilst adults can generally understand and push through, children cannot grasp this. The feelings they feel are very real to them so it is important to explain to them the rationale behind their emotions.
- Eating behaviours
If you notice that your child prefers to eat alone or is extremely picky about food and timings, then it is a clear sign they have anxiety.
“Picky eating is associated with anxiety, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder”. Children who had intense food aversions (like being unable to eat outside of the home) “were seven times more likely to have social anxiety and twice as likely to have a diagnosis of depression compared to children without selective eating habits.”
You know your child best. Use these guidelines to help your child overcome anxiety but it is important to understand that there are signs not listed above. If you need further support do contact your GP.