For some parents and caregivers it might be clear when a child is struggling with anxiety, especially if they’ve struggled with it themselves. Those children might express their worries through words and exhibit their anxieties in ways that don’t leave much doubt in an observer’s mind.
However, because children may not know how to express what they are feeling, or even that what they are feeling is something to talk about and ask for help with, many children end up with their anxieties going unrecognized, unnoticed and they fly under the radar in the classroom and at home.
Being aware of what to look for can help you help your child.
Signs Your Child Might Be Struggling With Anxiety
Worries and fears are a normal part of life, so how can you tell if a child might be struggling with anxiety?
Talk to your child about feelings. Ask them about their feelings.
Children, especially very young children, don’t understand, or even know what anxiety is. But it may come out in phrases expressing the physical feelings they have such as ‘big butterflies in my tummy’ or ‘like someone is sitting on my chest’.
A good way to open up the discussion is to check out some books about anxiety and worries to read with your child. Ask your child questions as you read together. “Do you ever feel that way?” is a good question to get started. Listen to them and allow them to speak about what they feel.
- excessive self-soothing (eg: twirling or pulling out hair, skin picking, nail biting, finger sucking)
- frequent tummy-aches, headaches, dizziness
- expressing feeling powerless
- expressing feeling lonely
- outbursts/tantrums/defiant behavior
- avoidance/fears of things that may or may not happen
- affecting sleep, relationships, schoolwork, eating habits
- negative self-talk and/or perfectionism
Look for several of the above signs. Each on their own don’t necessarily indicate anxiety – for example dizziness and tummy aches – but together they can be parts of a whole.
Anxiety will not go away on its own. In fact, not learning to deal with it in childhood can cause more issues going into adulthood. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the signs and take the steps necessary; seeking out professional help when needed.
Once you have the information you need, you can begin the journey of seeking help and learning how to help your child.