Children, just like adults, are capable of experiencing anxiety. This is especially true for children who are just entering into puberty when hormones begin to kick in and emotions become stronger and perhaps confusing. For parents, we often think that this is just a phase and hope our children will grow out of it. But, we do need to be cognizant that anxiety is very real for in our children. And, we need to recognize the signs of childhood anxiety and the needs that need to be addressed. Here are some of the ways anxiety can manifest that we should watch for.
7 Signs of Childhood Anxiety
1. Physically Lashing Out
Aggressive behavior, or quickness to react physically to a minor situation, can be a signs of childhood anxiety. If your child is hitting siblings, friends, or you out of frustration, rather than using his words, he may be feeling anxious about not being able to find the right words to express himself. Aggression is not acceptable at any age. Your child may need to be taught phrases or words to more appropriately express his feelings.
2. Complaining of Feeling Sick
Is your child always complaining of a headache, stomach ache, or a sore throat? You can’t ignore that she might really be sick and should seek medical attention. However, if this becomes a daily occurrence, and nothing seems to be terribly wrong, consider that your child is trying to avoid attending school or an event because of her fear of something bad happening. She may have had an uncomfortable experience that needs to be talked through. Be mindful that stress does cause real physical symptoms.
3. Being Overly Clingy
When a child bursts into sobbing tears every time you leave him alone for a second, or you have a babysitter in to take care of him, he is likely experiencing separation anxiety. This is a relatively common in young children. Exposing your children to other people and situations outside of the home from an early age can help them to adjust to being separated from you for periods of time.
4. Inability to Decide What to Wear
Has your little princess turned into a total diva when it comes to picking out an outfit? Does she consistently make the family late for events, or does she miss the bus due to wardrobe meltdowns? This is often a sign of perfectionism and wanting to be the best. This type of anxiety can also be seen when it takes forever to complete a homework assignment because it is never 100% right from your child’s perspective. Children need reassurance that they have done the best they could or look pretty in whatever they are wearing.
5. Breaking or Losing Belongings
There are times when a child might destroy or hide his personal belongings. For instance, your son might smash the Lego castle he was working on, or drown his favorite stuffed animal in the toilet. This is often a way to get your attention without knowing how to ask for it. He may be feeling neglected. The anxiety of that builds up inside of him until he loses it and does something erratic with the possessions that he supposedly cherishes. He might be trying to let you know that he feels like you are treating him the same way.
6. Obsessing about The What If’s
Constantly worrying about the future can be paralyzing to a child. This may stem from an unpleasant situation or misfortune she has witnessed or read about, such as the unexpected passing of her favorite grandparent. The fear that things will go wrong can stop a child in her tracks. She might need constant reassurance that for all the bad that can happen, there is also much good. You cannot pretend that everything will be ok, but you can assure her that you are looking out for her and keeping her safe.
7. Change in Eating Habits
Older children may limit the amount of food they eat due to body image stress. When an adolescent body begins to mature into adulthood, this time can be quite awkward. It is not uncommon for girls to feel like they are gaining weight and for boys to feel that they are too scrawny. Girls will sometimes restrict calories to stay slim, and boys may overeat to try to bulk up. There is a lot of anxiety around body image. You may have to ride this out by being as mindful as possible of your child’s nutritional needs. But don’t wait to get help if you suspect he or she has developed an eating disorder.