Growing up can be hard. As children grow and face more and more aspects of their lives independently, it can be tough not to feel anxious sometimes.
Some, if not all of these new tasks can be daunting: navigating social connections with peers and teachers, family roles, learning and concentration, being a little kid vs big kid, managing school and self-esteem.
14% of children and adolescents in Australia experience mental health problems at any single point in time (Sawyer, Sawyer, 2014). However, spotting signs early can help your child resolve some of the unhelpful assumptions they might be making and give them a better chance of a successful and thriving future.
Anxiety disorders and feelings of anxiety are the most common emotional issue among children. Fortunately, anxiety in children is extremely manageable, treatable and is responsive to good quality help. Some approaches that are proven to be highly effective in child counselling for anxiety include cognitive behavioural therapy, exposure therapy, emotion-focused therapy, and mindfulness.
“How well we cope depends largely on our perceptions of the event as well as the level of support we receive.”
It is normal for children to feel anxious sometimes or in response to particular situations. So how do you tell the difference between a child expressing healthy levels of worry towards a situation, or a child who is debilitated with feelings of anxiety that might need extra help?
Often, children have a hard time putting words to their feelings.
While they certainly feel emotions, children don’t always yet understand what to do with them or why they are there. Children are, however, experts at somatic referral. A Somatic referral is essentially a term that means we attach emotions to physical feelings – like feeling a tummy ache instead of thinking through that you’re dreading going to school.
As a parent or adult, spotting the physical differences in your child’s behaviour, or being attuned to how your child might be feeling physically, can help to spot the signs of anxiety in children. Once you can spot the signs, practical anxiety management techniques are incredibly helpful to improve the symptoms and feelings of a child coping with anxiety. These practical management techniques are what our Child Counsellors specialise in.
Signs my child might be struggling with anxiety
Worry can be a perfectly normal response to unknown situations. As a close cousin of ‘fear’, children learn this expression early in their development as nature’s way of keeping us out of danger. Where it might derail or reach a limit above the threshold is if anxiety becomes ‘unmanageable’. This sort of anxiety can lead to withdrawal from ‘having a go’ or overly heightened emotional reactions.
Most common anxiety symptoms in children
If your child is struggling with heightened anxiety, you might notice some of the symptoms below:
- Feeling a tummy ache or sore tummy
- Changes in eating habits
- Racing heart
- Sleep disturbances, not feeling comfortable to go or stay asleep
- Hysterical crying that won’t turn off
- Hopelessness or sadness that carries through normal activities
- Inflexibility or rigidity
- Irritability or overreactions
- Choosing isolation
How can I help my child cope with anxiety?
Be Careful about Labels
All children will feel worried at times, and often rightly in response to certain situations. Some kids will benefit from extra help and new coping tools.
Wherever the child is at, be mindful of how you label them. Development during childhood is an extremely rapid, fluid and ever-changing process. This is wonderful for your child’s ability to learn new coping tools and ways of tackling anxiety!
Yet it is also important to balance the need to identify kids who can benefit from extra focus, with the need to protect kids from harmful or self-fulfilling labels.
A self-fulfilling label might sound like:
“My teacher told my parents I have anxiety,
So I am an anxious person,
So if there is a situation that is not familiar, I should expect myself to behave anxiously”
A healthier way to talk about anxiety might be:
“Because I was trying something new and I didn’t get it all right on the first go,
I felt like I had hot cheeks so I think I was feeling anxiety.
If I tried that again, it wouldn’t be so new to me and I would probably do a better job so I will probably not feel so anxious but more excited” While it may sound overly precious, your labels and language will matter and be taken on by a child.
There is support available for children experiencing anxiety
If you’re not sure how to talk about the feeling, do some research, read our latest blog post on ‘How To Deal With Anxiety In Children‘ or consult with someone on the right language like one of our experienced Child Counsellors so that you can do your child justice they need and provide a happier future for them.
Marcus Andrews is the founder and director of Life Supports, which was established in 2002. He has extensive professional experience working as a counsellor and family therapist across a broad range of issues. The core component of his role at Life Supports involves the supervision of other counsellors, including secondary consultations. Marcus has worked in many sectors, including private, government, non-profit, health, forensic and community practice.