6 Childhood Anxiety alerts to help you identify what’s worrying your child.
Why is it so difficult to calm your child’s inner alarm? What will soothe her sense of impending doom?
You can see that your child is sad, afraid. Whatever is happening is more than moodiness and deeper than typical childhood fear. Words like “fidgety,” “tense,” “high strung,” or “timid” are fast becoming markers of your son or daughter’s childhood.
You realize that something serious is going on.
Is This a Case of Childhood Anxiety?
Childhood anxiety has an appropriate place in the lives of children, just as it does for adults. When there is real danger, your child’s body needs to activate important inner resources. Her internal alarm communicates to the rest of the body that a reaction is needed. A flood of anxiety, at the appropriate time, can keep your child alive when survival is threatened. A healthy dose of anxiety also helps her to prepare for a test, or behave in a certain way to avoid an unwanted consequence.
But when fear and worry keep your child from friends and fun, from not wanting to leave your side, she may have anxiety.
To determine whether your child is experiencing childhood anxiety, consider the following signs:
Childhood Anxiety Alert #1: Sudden Sickness.
Are headaches, muscle pain, or general bouts with undiagnosed illness a regular occurrence? How often are you called by the school nurse’s office or faced with deciding to keep your child home another day? Anxiety causes stress on the mind and body. Frequent bellyaches may be the way your child’s body uses to get your attention. If a physical examination comes back clear, and the pediatrician doesn’t have answers, it may be time to consider this a sign of emotional stress.
Childhood Anxiety Alert #2: No Rest for the Worried.
Anxious children are often too tense to easily fall and stay asleep. Do you find yourself consoling your child in the wee hours of the morning or trying to calm fears as she climbs into your bed? Nightmares are common in children with anxiety. A restful night is hard to get by when your child’s head is constantly spinning, fueled by fear or problems real or imagined. Sleep issues in children often point to a difficulty with tuning out negative thoughts, and calming themselves.
Childhood Anxiety Alert #3: Fear of the future.
“What if you forget to pick me up from school?” “What if I can’t wake up in the morning?” “What if the kids at camp next summer think I’m fat?”
If your child is constantly and inconsolably worked up about what could happen five minutes or five months from now, anxiety may be robbing her ability to enjoy the present. Children with anxiety often require a predictable schedule. Last minute changes can put a child with anxiety on edge.
Childhood Anxiety Alert #4: Perfectionism and Rigidity.
Is your child too hard on herself? Does she worry about fitting in? Is she afraid to play or engage other children because she frets over potentially embarrassing situations? Many children with anxiety feel that they can’t be good enough. They compensate by apologizing often, people pleasing, or setting impossibly high standards for themselves. Not being in control may immediately feel completely “out of control” to them. Kids with anxiety struggle to relax over little mistakes.
Childhood Anxiety Alert #5: The Duck and Hide.
Is silence or a stone face your child’s defense against fear? Does she hide behind a shield of extreme shyness or stubbornness, afraid to engage other children? Refusing to speak or shutting down is a common anxiety response in children. Your son or daughter may be too afraid to say or do the wrong thing. If your child is too afraid of “messing up”, she may opt for not saying anything at all (and be safe).
Childhood Anxiety Alert #6: Life Interrupted.
Does your son or daughter resist leaving home for school, sleepovers, or family activities? Is she jumpy, agitated or easily startled, unable to concentrate for fear that something “bad” could happen anytime? Your child may be convinced that no situation is safe.
If your child’s stomach aches and clingy goodbyes regularly start the day, and sleepless worry about what may happen tomorrow consume most nights, your child’s fears may need special attention.
The world can be a scary place for kids. Don’t be afraid to read the signs.