Anxiety is very much a normal emotion, especially in today’s society. There is so much change, increased pressure to perform, and the “busy is best” mentality. For kids, it’s no different. They have change, they feel pressure, and most have a pretty jam-packed schedule. In fact, a study by the CDC showed that as children get older the more anxiety they experience as seen in the graph below. With each year comes more responsibility and with more responsibility comes more stress. Approximately 4.4 million children between the ages of 3-17 experience some form of anxiety. For this reason, it’s so important as adults, parents, and caregivers to be able to recognize when your child is anxious and what support they may need.
Children’s anxiety can manifest in many ways. Some children’s anxiety is obvious and easy to identify. Some of these more obvious behaviors may include pacing the room, beginning to cry, shaking, or rapid speech. On the other hand, some children may hide it extremely well and it may not be so overt. For these kids, it may look like isolation, the need for control, quick to anger, difficulty concentrating, ruminating, and the need for neatness and order. For those children who have been struggling with anxiety for an extended amount of time, they may even begin to experience some somatic symptoms. These symptoms may include stomach pain, headaches, and rapid heart rate.
Once you are able to identify that your child is anxious, there are several different ways to provide support for them.
- Get professional help- Seek a mental health professional who can work with your child on processing these feelings and developing effective coping strategies, along with guiding you as the parent on how to better serve your child.
- Validate their feelings of anxiety –It’s important to understand that your child isn’t acting out in spite or to get attention but is asking for help the only way they know how to.
- Provide structure and predictability – Children struggling with anxiety often feel out of control and have the inability to be flexible with their time. When they feel prepared and in control, it eases their mind. A simple activity to do with your child is to put a white board in their room that lists your family’s schedule for the week. This might include sporting events, grocery store runs, and school projects.
- Modify your schedule – Busy isn’t always best. Chances are if you are overwhelmed and stressed about the family’s schedule, your child is feeling the same way. Kids are in school for 8 hours a day- it’s long and exhausting. Most kids have some activity to do after school in addition to homework. Not every child struggles with this busy lifestyle, but it’s important to get a gauge of how your child is tolerating it.
- Create an individualized “safe” space in your home –This safe place is a special place that your child can go to when they need to relax and regulate. Ideally, this space is separate from the hustle and bustle of your home. This space may even include different coping mechanisms that your child has learned in therapy.
- Make sure your child is getting their critical needs met -These critical needs include getting enough sleep and eating enough food. It’s quite challenging for children (and adults) to respond perfectly to situations and regulate when they are tired and hungry.
As you can see, identifying whether or not your child is struggling with anxiety is not always easy. Just as no two people are alike, no two people experience anxiety the same way. This is where empathy becomes so powerful! You don’t always have to have all the right answers as parents or understand exactly what they are going through. All they need is for you to show up, get on their level, and try to see their world through their lens.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html