Recognizing Anxiety in Children and How to Help Them

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Anxiety can be difficult or even traumatic for children to deal with. With a keen eye, you can spot the problem and help the child before it becomes severe. (Image: sashomasho via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Children react to stress in different ways according to their age, their individual character and their coping abilities. A small child may not be able to fully articulate his or her concerns, while older children may be able to describe in detail what disturbs them and why they feel that way, although they may not share that knowledge with their parents.

Every parent has the power to educate their children on how to accept and deal with their fears and worries. With the loving support and positive attitude of the parent, they can often overcome their anxieties.

If a child’s worries begin to interfere with his daily activities, a parent needs to determine whether their anxiety is transient or deeper. Then they can find out how to help their children with stress and anxiety issues. Anxiety may also be diagnosed by a trained therapist.  

Signs of anxiety in children and adolescents

Changes in behavior or temperament are typical warning signs that your child is suffering stress and anxiety, yet they may be difficult to detect. Some of the most frequent symptoms are easily recognized.

Stomachaches or frequent headaches are physical symptoms related to stress. You may also notice sleep disorders or trouble focusing. Changes in behavior such as irritability, or nail biting it may indicate the development of a nervous problem.

For teens, especially, extremely rebellious behavior, emotional outbursts, increased conflict between parent and child or sudden withdrawal from normally enjoyed social activities can all be signs of anxiety. A serious call for help would be inflicting pain through cutting, or use of drugs. 

Causes of stress in children

Anxiety and tension may be inherited, as some children are born with genes that predispose them to anxiety. Alternatively, anxiety may be “learned” by growing up in a household where others are worried or anxious.

External factors such as school issues, family problems, or conflicts with peers may also contribute to anxiety. Concerns about schoolwork or peer acceptance are additional factors that can cause stress for a child. 

Big family changes such as divorce, a death in the family, relocation, or even the birth of a new sibling may cause stress and anxiety. Tectonic changes may upend your school going child’s life, causing confusion and insecurity.

Helping your child deal with their anxiety

It is important to provide your youngsters with a safe and nurturing environment in which they may grow and thrive. Your child needs to know that he or she can rely on you. 

Routine and boundaries are important factors in helping a child feel secure. A regular and reasonable bedtime, established limits, traditions and regular responsibilities are all parts of a structured life that can be depended upon. A traditional, stable family life can be the foundation for strength in character.

Introducing a basic and straightforward meditation practice, or instilling a love of literature, art, or music in your children can provide them the means to alleviate stress and anxiety.

Giving a child his or her own time alone with you helps them to feel more confident and gives them the chance to bring up issues that they are interested in talking about with their parents.

Avoid further pressuring your child with demanding questions. Keep your communication positive and helpful, letting them know you are there for support, not criticism.

Allow your kids plenty of space and time to play, giving them options so that they can make their own decisions. Having a sense of control goes a long way in alleviating stress.

Above all, talk to your youngsters about their concerns. Spending time with them planning out how to resolve problems may also help to decrease their feelings of uncertainty, while letting them know that you understand the difficulty they are experiencing will give them welcome support. 

Remember to enjoy your children. By entering the world of your child’s daily activities you can keep tabs on anxiety levels and act before it escalates. Challenging as it may be, it is undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary experiences you will ever have the opportunity to do.

  • Simone Jonker worked in NTD Inspired for two years. She wrote light articles and inspiring stories.