Children may show symptoms of anxiety early on. Here’s how to spot them

Excessive clinginess to parents can be a sign a child is struggling with an anxiety disorder, experts have said.
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How do you know if she’s just having a bad day or if this is a sign of ongoing anxiety she might be feeling?

Anxiety disorders are marked by persistent and excessive worry. While someone with generalized anxiety can worry about various things in daily life, a person with social anxiety typically has “intense or persistent fears or worries about being judged negatively by other people,” said Rachel Busman, a clinical psychologist and cognitive and behavioral consultant based in White Plains, New York. in anguish. “You are afraid to say or do something that will make you look stupid or incompetent.”
A fifth of children worldwide have anxiety symptoms that are ‘clinically high’ or worse than considered normal, according to a study 2021. In the United States, 9.4% of children aged 3 to 17, or about 5.8 million, had been diagnosed with anxiety between 2016 and 2019, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Anxiety symptoms can be hard to spot, but the sooner parents notice the signs, the sooner mental health professionals “can help parents and children understand what’s going on,” said Dr Rebecca Baum. , professor of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the University of the North. Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Anxious children may begin to avoid anxiety-provoking situations. This behavior can facilitate a cycle that makes their fears bigger and bigger, Baum added.

But “the sooner we have tools, the sooner we can put kids on a path that encourages them to be resilient and helps them face the things they’re afraid of,” Busman said.

Read on to learn more about the first physical, behavioral and emotional signs of general or social anxiety and how to help your child.

General anxiety

Common signs of general anxiety in children – according to the UK National Health Service, University of MichiganBaum and Busman — include:
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping, bedwetting, or bad dreams
  • Not eating properly
  • Sticky
  • Lack of confidence to try new things or inability to deal with simple, everyday problems
  • Avoidance of daily activities, such as seeing friends or going out in public or at school
  • Inability to speak in certain social situations
  • Solace seeking (repeated questions to reconfirm worries, like exactly when and where you pick them up from school, or if the weather will really be good enough for a play date)
  • Physical symptoms such as frequent use of the toilet; tears; headache; dizziness; dizziness; sweat; stomach ache; nausea; cramps; vomiting; fidget; or body aches (especially if they usually occur before a school or social obligation)

Tantrums, irritability or defiance could be misinterpreted as disrespectful behavior issues, but anxiety could be the underlying cause, Busman said. Refusal to do homework may be due to fear of making mistakes.

Kids “don’t necessarily have the tools to say, ‘This is really distressing me,'” Busman said. “So they act.”

Social anxiety

Many symptoms of social anxiety resemble those of general anxiety, but arise in social settings, Busman said.

Children struggling with social anxiety could show these signs, according to National Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., the National Center for Social Anxiety and the Mayo Clinic:
  • Avoiding or refusing to go to school
  • Refusing to speak in social settings or speaking in a soft or low tone
  • Poor social skills, such as fearing strangers or not making eye contact
  • Being afraid or having difficulty using public restrooms, talking on the phone, giving public performances, eating in front of others, being called to class, or being separated from parents
  • Physical symptoms, including rapid heartbeat, shaking, difficulty catching breath, feeling like their mind has gone blank, and muscle tension

Have conversations that matter

It’s important to get to the bottom of what’s causing your child anxiety, but it needs to be done with compassion – without grilling, which could put her on the defensive or put her in the hot seat, and cause her to no longer want to talk to you at all. .

Curious, non-leading questions are good, Busman recommends. Open up prompts such as “I noticed that you seem hesitant to get into this business. What’s up?” might work better than “Were you afraid to come in, or didn’t you like these people?”

Ask your child how a certain event went, what he liked and what was difficult.

According to Anxiety Canada — so some kids might verbalize those concerns in a way that makes sense to them, like “I didn’t want people looking at my drawing” or “My voice sounds really funny,” Busman said.

If your child is honest about what makes them anxious, avoid invalidating the experience by saying, “It’s nothing to be afraid of” or “Don’t be a baby.” Also avoid asserting your fears. Saying “That sounds so scary; I’m so sorry you had to do that” can make the child feel more fragile, Busman said.

A good balance is saying, “That sounds difficult,” and then a statement that acknowledges your child’s ability to rise to the challenge and that you know you can solve it together, Busman added.

If your child is anxious about starting soccer practice and not kicking the ball, use some form of the statement above and reassure them that they will get better with practice. practice, but don’t overdo it by saying he’ll kick the game-winning goal – which might not happen.

“We sometimes get nervous about our kids having less than perfect times,” Busman said, but teaching that imperfection is okay is crucial. Your child can sometimes miss the ball and being liked by everyone is unrealistic.

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“Stress management is an important part of childhood,” Baum said. Parents and caregivers can model this by “talking about times when they’ve been anxious about something but tried to come to terms with it, even though it didn’t turn out exactly the way they had hoped.”

If you are concerned that talking to your child’s teachers could cause stigma or a problem where there may not be any, know that consulting them is worthwhile since they observe your child daily for many hours in different environments and so “are often very good sources of information,” Busman said. “Sometimes the way kids are at home isn’t the same as they are at school and vice versa.”

A teacher can tell you how your child interacts with their peers and if they are still sad or anxious after you drop them off at school.

When worries persist and “interfere with a child’s ability to do the things they need to be kids,” Busman said, “it’s a good time to ask for more support.”

The best treatment for anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves some level of exposure therapy, which can help children feel comfortable doing the things they’re afraid of, Busman said.

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Your child’s primary care provider can help “distinguish between what’s typical for the child’s age/developmental level and what might be concerning,” Baum said. “Even if the symptoms are typical for the child’s age, families can still appreciate help managing them successfully.”

Baum added: “Getting up to and even just beyond a child’s comfort zone (is) where growth happens.”

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