The word anxiety is not something that exists in most children's vocabulary; therefore, they are usually not familiar with the symptoms that accompany an anxiety disorder. The fact that children cannot communicate what they are feeling makes it difficult to diagnose anxiety, so it tends to go untreated for too long. Many times, parents just believe their child is cautious or worrisome, or maybe they suspect anxiety but don't want to accept that their child may be suffering from it. Identifying possible signs is the first step to helping a child who is suffering from an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety Sign #1: Constant Worrying About Things That Have Not Happened
Children suffering from anxiety work up fearful scenarios in their heads. This could be anything from a parent dying to the world ending, and generally, they will keep bringing it up even after they have been reassured by an adult that it's nothing to worry about. These fears could keep them from doing things they want to do, because they just can't get it out of their heads.
Anxiety Sign #2: Excessive Clinginess Or Separation Anxiety
The child who suffers from anxiety does not want to be separated from a parent for fear something might happen to one of them. This is more extreme than the typical child not wanting the parent to leave, because normally, the child is fine a few minutes after the parent leaves. In the case of children with anxiety, they are absolutely terrified of being separated and may even become physically ill at the thought of having to leave the parent. Many times, parents are forced to cancel trips or appointments because of this separation anxiety.
Anxiety Sign #3: Physical Ailments Due To Worrying
Children may complain of headaches, stomachaches or excessive fatigue. Often times, the child is unaware that the excessive worrying is not a normal feeling, so they don't relate that with the physical condition. Children suffering from anxiety tend to be “sick” more often than other children because of the constant fear or worrying.
Anxiety Sign #4: Sleeping Difficulties
Many parents struggle to get their children to go to bed, because the child doesn't want to miss out on fun, or they just don't feel tired. The child with anxiety fights going to bed because of fear. He/she will lay awake in the quiet environment and worry about many things, which makes bedtime a very anxious time. Often times, the child will cry and beg the parent to lay and talk to him, so he won't have to be alone with his thoughts.
Anxiety Sign #5: The Need To Be Perfect
Children suffering from an anxiety disorder may be afraid to make mistakes. They might spend hours completing a task, making sure it is perfect before finishing. They may also get very upset when they do make even the smallest error. This sometimes will keep a child from trying something new, for fear she will not do it perfectly.
Anxiety Sign #6: Limited Interaction With Friends
Anxiety can keep a child from going places or playing with other children. On top of not wanting to leave a parent's side, the child may also worry about going places where he/she could get hurt or lost. He/she may also not want to be with another child when the physical manifestation of the disorder hits, because it can be embarrassing to the child with anxiety.
Anxiety Sign #7: Pessimism Or Negative Thinking
Children suffering from an anxiety disorder tend to always imagine the worst or over exaggerate the negatives. They may say, “Bad things ALWAYS happen to me”, or “I bet we are going to lose this game today”. They can also be very critical of themselves and their performance in sports and other activities.
What Should You Do?
Life events can trigger anxiety in children, including moving house, childcare or schools, a new baby in the family, the mother or father spending less time at home and more time at work (even starting a job), parents separating, visits during shared care – many things. While as parents we can do our best to listen to our children, attempting to uncover the underlying issues, sometimes you can get stuck not knowing what to say or do, and sometimes you may have absolutely no idea what is causing the anxiety.
If you think your child has a problem with anxiety, you could make an appointment with your child’s paediatrician to check for any underlying health issues and get a referral to a clinical child psychologist. It helps to find someone who specialises in childhood anxiety, and if you can, get recommendations from other parents or anxiety groups. The internet can be a great source of information, so a bit of homework can pay off in finding the right therapist which is so important.
Chiropractic and osteopathy (especially cranio sacral osteopathy) can also help anxious children. If your child’s body isn’t aligned or has tight and tense muscles, it can make you feel out of sorts and anxious. There are therapists that specialise in children and families so see if you can find one in your area.
Another big tip is to pay close attention to your child’s diet, as the gut has been called ‘the second brain’ by many health experts. An unhealthy diet means an unhappy gut, which can result in anxiety and other behavioural issues. Avoid sugar, processed wheat (bread, pasta, biscuits, cake etc) and go light on dairy, which is also inflammatory in the body. Focus on a paleo type of diet that includes a range of colours of vegetables, protein, omegas, leafy greens and plenty of filtered water, which can be much kinder on the gut, and the brain as a result. You may like to supplement with probiotics to help boost the gut and immune system. You could also make some bone broth which is full of minerals and goodness – use the bone broth as a base for soup, or in other foods like mashed potato.
If your child seems to be excessively shy, take a look at our article on Selective Mutism.