Childhood is full of new experiences that can sometimes feel scary to young ones and as a part of growing up, child anxiety is normal to a point and all kids experience it at some time or another.
Do you think your preschooler or grade-schooler may be struggling with anxiety? Here are some anxiety in children symptoms checklist, according to John Piacentini, Ph.D., and Lindsey Bergman, Ph.D., experts from the UCLA Child Anxiety Resilience Education and Supports (CARES) Center.
Physical Signs of Anxiety in Children
- Frequently complains of headaches or stomachaches, even though there’s no medical reason for them.
- Refuses to eat snacks or lunch at daycare or school.
- Won’t use restrooms except at home.
- Can become restless, fidgety, hyperactive or distracted (even though he doesn’t necessarily have ADHD).
- Starts to shake or sweat in intimidating situations.
- Constantly tenses his muscles.
- Has trouble falling or staying asleep.
Emotional Signs of Anxiety in Children
- Cries often
- Acts extremely sensitive.
- Becomes grouchy or angry without any clear reason.
- Is afraid of making even minor mistakes.
- Has extreme test anxiety.
- Has panic attacks (or is afraid of having panic attacks).
- Is afraid people will find out about his learning and attention issues (more so than other kids with the same issues).
- Worries about things that are far in the future (for example, a third-grader might worry about starting middle school).
- Is worried or afraid during drop-offs (at daycare, school, relatives’ homes, etc.).
- Has frequent nightmares about losing a parent or loved one.
- Gets distracted from playing by his worries and fears.
- Has obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors (finger tapping, hand washing, etc.).
- Is starting to have meltdowns or tantrums.
- Has phobias (about bees, dogs, etc.) and exaggerated fears (about things like natural disasters, etc.)
Behavioral Signs of Anxiety
- Asks “what if?” constantly. (“What if an earthquake happened?”)
- Avoids participating during circle time or other class activities.
- Remains silent or preoccupied when he’s expected to work with others.
- Refuses to go to school
- Stays inside, alone, at lunch or recess.
- Avoids social situations with peers after school or on weekends (extracurricular activities, birthday parties, etc.).
- Refuses to speak to peers or strangers in stores, restaurants, etc.
- Becomes emotional or angry when separating from parents or loved ones.
- Constantly seeks approval from parents, teachers, and friends.
- Says “I can’t do it!” without a real reason.
This is a generic list of anxiety symptoms faced by children under 10 years of age and can vary from person to person.
Anxiety in Schools
I would like to elaborate on children facing anxiety in schools and possible solutions on how to help a child with anxiety about school. Anxiety tends to lock up the brain making school hard for children. Clingy kids, disruptive behavior, trouble answering questions in class, frequent trips to the nurse, problem in certain subjects, not turning in your homework, avoiding socializing etc. You might pass it as a normal behavior but if not treated can have long term repercussions. Many treatments can reduce anxiety in school children. Techniques include:
- Relaxation exercises
- Cognitive therapy – often associated with the shortest duration (on average, six months) and best outcome.
- Psychological and social therapy
Medication is also available for children with anxiety but is not considered the preferred treatment in most situations. Medications should always be used alongside therapy.
After an incident of anxiety, it’s critical to be calm and understanding. However, returning to a normal routine as soon as possible is important so as not to reinforce the anxiety symptoms. Putting an anxious child in home school is not recommended as it may prolong and make the symptoms of anxiety more severe.
Another common problem during growing up years is Child panic attacks at night. These episodes of anxiety can occur for no apparent reason. During a panic attack, a child typically has sudden and intense physical symptoms that can include a pounding heart, shortness of breath, dizziness, numbness, or tingling feelings. Again the treatment is either psychotherapy or doctors prescribing medicines. Medicines are not advisable in the long run as addiction can take place at a young age.
Activities For Children With Anxiety – Strategies To Help With Anxiety
Every child has his own way to respond to a particular treatment or therapy. Here are some home treatments and activities that you can use alongside professional help:
Practice Relaxation Strategies: Kids need to learn how to regulate both their emotional and physical responses (they become intertwined) when they go into fight-or-flight mode. Here are some techniques that may help:
Deep breathing: Teaching your children to “breathe the rainbow” by taking slow deep breaths and thinking about their favorite things to match each color helps them slow their heart rate and relax their muscles. Practice this strategy when calm to increase effectiveness when anxious.
Progressive muscle relaxation: Most kids tense their muscles when feeling anxious. Many even hold their breath. A simple two-step process helps kids learn to use their muscles to relieve the physical stress they experience when anxious.
1) Tense a specific muscle group (e.g. arms and hands or neck and shoulders) and hold for five seconds and 2) Release the muscle group and notice how you feel. Work head-to-toe to better understand all of the muscles affected by anxiety. With practice, children can learn to do this at school.
Create a relaxation kit: Fill a box with relaxing activities chosen by your child and create a relaxation center somewhere in your home. You might include music, coloring books, fidget toys, a mini sandbox, clay, books, and stuffed animals.
Last but not least I define anxiety as experiencing failure in advance. Parents play an essential role in helping their child or teen manage anxiety. When coping skills and brave behavior is rewarded and practiced in the home, children and teens can learn to face their fears, take reasonable risks, and ultimately gain confidence.