An Anxious Child
As adults, we have a wealth of life experience and often enough emotional intelligence to understand our feelings and emotional reactions to different situations, whether its feeling stressed, anxious, sad, or even more complex emotions such as grief.
However, our children don’t have the same life experience or the emotional intelligence as they develop and grow. Instead children can recognize a change in feelings and might even identify them as negative feelings, but they lack the knowledge of how to understand and deal with the emotions, they certainly at a young age cannot link terms or names like ‘anxious’ to a specific feeling.
Whereas in adulthood when we feel a sense of panic or worry we can identify that perhaps we are feeling anxious. When we are feeling rushed off our feet we can identify those feelings as perhaps being stressed, and so on.
We commonly know what sort of symptoms to look out for when we talk about anxiety in adults:
• Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
• Panic attacks
• Heart palpitations
• Busy mind
• Excessive sweating
• Nausea & dizziness
• Noise sensitivity
• Emotional sensitivity
Did you know that children display symptoms quite differently, they may not say they are anxious, but they will let us know when something is wrong even if they are not entirely sure what it is that’s wrong? Children often tell us about their symptoms and how they may be feeling ‘different’ to normal, awaiting our experience and wisdom to help them cope and understand what’s happening. To children, their feelings can be confusing and frustrating, they are constantly changing and evolving with so many different emotions to comprehend and deal with.
Signs to look out for in children:
• Constant tummy aches and/or feeling sick
• Waking up during the night more than usual
• Night mares
• Agitated more than normal
• Worrying or asking lots of questions
• Restless behavior – quick to be angered and often uncontrollable outburst
• Avoiding people or situations that could even slightly stress them out
• Meltdowns, crying often or tantrums
• Changes to concentration ability
• Eating habits affected, not eating properly
• Using the toilet more often
• Being clingy often to parents or caregivers
• Difficulty transitioning
• Extreme perfectionism
• Strange coping mechanisms that could be considered self-harm (such as biting, scratching, pinching or even pulling out hair).
Until recently, many were unaware of childhood mental disorders other than ADHD and other run of the mill behavioral concerns experienced by children. Even in adulthood, anxiety often isn’t taken as seriously as it should be because people think that anxiety is simply the feeling of normal fear taking hold of us. But anxiety is much more than that and can be consuming for the person dealing with it.
Every child has moments when they cower behind their parent because of a loud noise or because it suddenly got dark outside. In these situations, the child is anxious and rightly so, leaving no cause for concern. However, in some cases children suffer with feelings of anxiety that can affect their relationships, their education and their overall quality of life. Recent statistics have shown us that at least 1 in every 8 children develop an anxiety disorder.
Being anxious doesn’t have to mean you can’t function, it might just make some kinds of functioning more difficult. For example, a piece of homework that should take 20 minutes might take over an hour. Perhaps its bedtime, every night no matter what you’ve done your left dealing with a meltdown because it’s time to sleep. It is important with anxiety to remember how internal it is. It can dominate a Child’s thoughts, but it might not be obvious to people around them.
After working with many anxious children, it is worth noting that many of them are still happy and enjoying life. They may only be struggling in specific situations, which makes their anxiety all the easier to overlook. Sadly, if anxiety is left untreated is can leave a child feeling worthless, underperforming academically and withdrawn from social interactions. Depression is also often considered a result of an untreated childhood anxiety disorder.
So, how can we make a difference?
If you notice a change in your child’s behaviour, personality or temperament, perhaps they appear to have lost confidence or are constantly stressing or being emotional to the point of it intervening in their day to day activities, always seek the help of a trusted therapist if you are unsure or concerned. Catching the symptoms early and recognising the triggers can support the therapeutic intervention. Above all- listen to your child, within reason. Use your better judgment and stay tuned into your child’s normal behaviors and habits. Doing these simple things can make all the difference in the world.