The question is, how do you know when kids are just worried, or dealing with something bigger than your average worry?
In other words, what do you need to know about your worried child/children? Developing from a child into a well-adjusted adult means that you have trust that most of your basic human needs are going to be met by your caregivers growing up. However, despite your best abilities, your child may still unconsciously take on responsibility for things that are very much outside of their control, which in turn can reduce that level of trust and security. So is the case with the child who blames himself for his parents’ divorce. Or the little girl who takes on the job of helping her mother carry her chronic depression. But anxiety doesn’t have to be present due to something happening in the home, or even at school. For many kids, anxiety can be felt for a variety of reasons, even due to the current state of the world.
Politics, terrorism, world issues, gender, immigration, and race relations have all been hot button topics recently.
Kids can feel that, and often will absorb it like a sponge! Peers, adults, or the media can fuel fears and uncertainties about our current reality. Kids may often feel like they have no control, but their innate humanness and desire for love and attention can often cause them to unconsciously develop a sense of responsibility. Due to those big, beautiful imaginations, and as-of-yet underdeveloped communication skills, kids will rarely come right out and explain to a parent what it is they are worried about. They might not even know why they are upset. These things together can not only create anxiety, but also make it hard to understand, as a parent, when and if your child is struggling with it.
The end result is that many, many children are suffering with symptoms of childhood anxiety, which can seep out into their lives in a multitude of other ways. Only, some of those ways might not seem so obvious.
Consider that someone can still function quite well while dealing with anxiety. It doesn’t have to look like a full-blown panic attack. Could these signs be symptoms of anxiety in disguise?
- Trouble making friends
- Paying attention in school
- Always tired, or can’t wake up
- Decreased interest in favorite activities
- Decreased snacking or appetite
- Complaints of stomachaches or headaches
- Routinely want to stay home “sick”
- Don’t want to go to school
Your child may seem quite fine to an onlooker, but perhaps you as their parent might have noticed that something is just a little bit “off”.
I want to make it clear that this blog isn’t written to scare anyone, nor is it seeking to magnify a problem, or create one.
The fact is, many people don’t seem to recognize anxiety in kids for what it is, and the end result is that it is often left untreated.
Anxiety is a natural human emotion and very common in kids. Anxiety disorders are found to be a largely hidden epidemic, considering the findings of one study where trained professionals interviewed more than 10,000 kids. Out of the 10,000, they found that greater than 30 percent had experienced an anxiety disorder prior to turning 18.
Do you like to be in pain? Didn’t think so.
Most humans tend to operate out of the pain and pleasure principle, (i.e. we avoid pain and seek pleasure, all day, every day). So naturally, if a child feels anxious about something, they may try first to avoid the object of their anxiousness. Parents, worried about their children, and unsure about what to do, may encourage this avoidance.
However, we have seen over the years that avoidance doesn’t work.
If left to its own devices, avoidance of anxiety can sometimes lead to other issues such as poorer grades, self-doubt, low self-esteem, troubled relationships, fear, and substance abuse. So, it is not always helpful to simply reassure them that everything will be fine– the feelings of anxiety (which can be quite physical, confusing, and scary… not just emotional) tend to feel the opposite of fine, and reassurance from a parent can become a form of avoidance.
It can be hard to watch your child or teen struggling with anxiety. If you think that there is a possibility that your kid is experiencing more than the average worries, don’t hesitate to get them the help that they need. The sooner they can begin facing their fears, the easier it will be to free themselves from painful patterns that interfere with their well-being.
Recognize any of these signs and symptoms? Tried to handle on your own? Leave us a comment and let us know what you’ve found helpful or maybe not so helpful! We love hearing from you and other readers can always learn from you too.
Need support in helping your child or teen learn to channel their fears? Want the help of a trained professional, skilled in using art and the creative expression, to make it less intimidating for your loved one?
Natalie DeFay Foster is an LAMFT and Clinical Art Therapist who specializes in helping families work together to promote the health of each member while encouraging individual expression, connection, and communication. We offer a free 15 minute phone consultation to see if Art Therapy is right for you or your family member.
P.s. Keep an eye out for our next blog, which will help you understand what you can do to best help your anxious child along with some creative strategies to make it more inviting for you both!