Children show anxiety in a variety of ways. Some symptoms are easy to identify as they look very similar to an adult's, while other symptoms may look very different. So how do you know if your child is experiencing anxiety? If your child is showing any of the following symptoms, it could be due to anxiety and may be time to seek assistance:
- Frequent stomach or head aches for unknown reasons
- Difficulty separating from parent at the homes of relatives or friend's birthday parties
- Expressed fear of being laughed at by other kids
- Trouble asking other kids to play with her
- Refusing to go to school for vague or unspecified reasons
- Frequent crying
- Worrying about becoming sick
- Perfectionistic with school work or the way he dresses
- Temper outbursts that seem to come out of nowhere
- Worrying about a lot of different things (the weather, family finances, the family dog becoming sick even though she's healthy and young)
- Fear of natural disasters, bugs, strangers, etc. (whether due to a previous traumatic experience involving one of the fears or not)
- Sleeping with the light on at night
- Frequently entering parent's bed at night
- Avoidance of scary (but child-friendly) movies or television shows
- Frequent nightmares
If you suspect that your child is anxious, start with this wonderful book: What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety. This great workbook should be read together to allow you and your child the opportunity to discuss where anxiety comes from and how to manage it. You can share your own experiences with anxiety and strategies that have been helpful for you in the past. This book has essential coping skills such as worry time, a worry box, talking back to worries, and so on. It is an excellent starting point for learning how to manage anxiety.
Make your internal dialogue external. When you are feeling anxious, say it out loud. And then follow the statement with what you are going to do to manage it. For example, "I am so anxious about my presentation at work on Thursday. I'm going to go take a hot bath and listen to music to relax myself." Or "I'm feeling anxious tonight and worrying about a lot of different things. I'm not really sure what's going on but I think I need to relax a little. Anyone want to go for a bike ride with me?" By making your internal dialogue external, you are normalizing anxiety and modeling healthy coping strategies for your child.
Implement stress management techniques (click here to read my previous post on this topic). Implementing stress management techniques on a regular basis is a great way to teach your child how to not only manage stress, but to head off anxiety before it has the opportunity to begin. Plus, stress management strategies are a great foundation upon which to build anxiety management techniques.
Teach deep breathing exercises. It is amazing how many of us do not know how to properly breathe deeply. Yoga classes can help teach this extremely necessary skill and are also helpful for managing anxiety. To teach deep breathing to a young child, have them act like different animals when inhaling and exhaling. For example, breathe in like a snake (use your arms to create a slithering motion while loudly inhaling) and exhale like a snake (make the same slithering motion with arms while loudly exhaling); breathe in like a dog (pant/inhale, pant/inhale, pant/inhale) and breathe out like a dog (pant/exhale, pant/exhale, pant/exhale).
Have a family relaxation station night. Sunday nights can be a source of anxiety for many kids as they worry about the upcoming week. Help them manage that by creating different relaxation stations throughout the house (relaxing music in the family room, warm towels over eyes while laying down on soft blankets in the kitchen, deep breathing in a bedroom, yoga in the living room, etc.) and have the whole family spend 30 to 60 minutes where each individual rotates from station to station, spending about 5 to 15 minutes at each station (depending on age of kids and amount of space and stations). Keep in mind that you may need to first teach what to do in each station.
Buy them a special journal/diary. Make a big deal out of it by having them earn it or wrap it up and give it as a surprise gift. Tell them it is for their private eyes only and no one else is allowed to look at it. Help them find a special hiding place in their bedroom for it. Tell them they can write anything they want in the diary, like how they feel or what they think about different people or what happened during the day. But then tell him that the most important part of each diary entry is to end it with something good that happened that day or something that he is looking forward to. This helps kids work on identifying feelings and also teaches how to find the positive in any situation.
If you find that your child is experiencing anxiety and you do not know what to do to help, please contact me. I specialize in working with kids with anxiety, from minor worries to significant fears, and can help you better help your child.