What does anxiety look like in children and how can we support as parents

According to health reports, anxiety disorders were the second most common disorders among all children (6.9%), and the most common among girls (6.1%).

When we discuss anxiety – what are we talking about? Anxiety disorders refers to a group of conditions rather than a single disorder. 

It is common for children to sometimes be fearful and anxious, but some may be more anxious than other children of their age and developmental level. This anxiety can stop them participating in activities at school or socially, or interfere with their ability to do what other children of their age do.

What are some of the key signs and symptoms or an anxious child?

Anxiety can present itself in so many shapes or forms, and don’t forget each child will be unique in the way they respond to different situations. 

Below we will go over just some of the more frequent signs.

Big Emotions

When it comes to an anxious child one of the most common signs will be an inability to control or regulate emotions. This lack of regulation can come in different forms, some which might stand out include:

  • Being overly clingy with a parent or wanting to be physically held a lot more than usual
  • Constantly feeling overwhelmed by everyday situations
  • Feeling sad for not apparent reason or bursting into tears regularly
  • Being avoidant of what used to be fun activities e.g. going to the park or visiting a family friend
  • Avoiding activities which were once part of everyday life e.g. going to the supermarket, getting into the car
  • Constant physical complaints such as have a headache, sore belly or not being able to sleep
  • Wanting to go to the toilet all time (even if they physically don’t need to)
  • Repetitive physical behaviours like skin picking, nail biting or body twitching

What can parents do to support their anxious child?

There are a number of different ways we can support our kids when they are starting to feel overwhelmed and sad. 

Coach & Teach

An excellent way to start will be to explain what anxiety is, why it happens and how it physically and mentally feels. 

Begin with explaining the ‘fight and flight’ mechanism and why it’s there. If you’d like some support on how to explain this, why not try this video. This video uses animation and a fairy tale concept to provide information about the fight-or-flight response mechanism that is activated in humans when faced with a perceived threat. Little Blue Riding Hood is faced with the threat of a wolf, and the activation of the fight-or-flight response.

Be mindful of your own behaviour

There is a reason why we call children little sponges – they will feed off your behavior and actions, so this is a good time to remind you to take care of yourself.

As parents we will get stressed and anxious at times, so it’s even more important to analyse how we respond to difficult situations. We have a natural tendency to react, however if we can focus on self-care, centering our emotions and remaining calm, it will be a great start to being an excellent role model to your child.

Create a connection & don’t try to fix

When we are faced with a stressed and emotional child, it’s not the ideal moment to try to teach or fix the issue. The best way to move forward will be to reflect, provide understanding and support to your child. 

Let them work through the difficult moment and be there for them as a support pillar. 

The best plan of attack is to validate your child’s feelings and make them feel safe expressing their emotions to you. Having a child that constantly avoids or shuts down can develop harmful patterns as they grow older.

Developing emotional literacy

After we have worked through the initial outburst, this will be the ideal time to develop emotional literacy skills together as a family. Encourage your child to name their feelings and express how they are feeling (emotionally and physically). 

Emotional literacy is not an overnight skill that can be developed, but the more you can work through it together the greater this skill will be mastered.

Having an anxious child is a scary experience for any parent. When all we want for our children is happiness, the last thing we want to be faced with is a child in distress and sadness. If you think that your child is constantly battling the signs we’ve outlined – get in touch with the friendly team at Spencer Health. Our experts are here to support your family.