Every child shows signs of worry. Worry and anxiety are very normal emotions and necessary for us to be well rounded human beings, but sometimes it’s clear to see that some children and teens worry too much, from not wanting to be far from their parents, not wanting to go to school, constantly having tummy aches, and often telling you they can’t do things. It can be very hard for parents to know the difference. Surveys of children and adolescents in community populations, using self-report questionnaires, indicate that anxiety disorders are the most common childhood emotional disorders. In most cases, anxiety in children and fears in childhood are fairly transient and short-lived. Different anxieties develop at different stages, for example babies and toddlers might fear loud noises, heights, strangers and separation. Pre-schoolers might start to show fear of being on their own and of the dark. School-age children might be afraid of ghosts, their parents going out, social situations, failure, criticism or tests. How do you know the difference normal worry and anxiety? Some signs might include:
- telling you about a lot of worries
- trouble falling or staying asleep
- looking tired, grumpy, irritable, tearful or upset most of the time
- looking restless,
- keyed-up or on edge losing interest in things they used to enjoy
- becoming withdrawn and losing friends
- refusing to eat or eating a lot
- complaining of tense or sore muscles and/or headaches complaining of unexplained aches
If you recognise these signs it might be time to seek help. The approach you take depends of how intense the emotions are for the child, how much it interferes with their daily life and how much it impacts you as a family. The solution, especially for younger and primary school aged children lies in a whole family approach. There are many things you can do at home and some counselling might be part of the solution, to point you in the right direction. The approach can vary from helping your child understand what they are feeling through conversation, play or stories to cognitive behavioural therapy.
Childhood anxiety, while very stressful for everyone in the family is very treatable and early intervention helps set up you and your child with the skills to ensure they grow into adults who know how to handle that feeling.