In the 6th grade, I complained of a stomach ache every morning in an attempt to get out of going to school. My parents were worried and took me to multiple pediatricians to find out if there was something serious going on. The truth? I was overwhelmed by the social politics of school and was willing to do anything to avoid a small group of mean girls.
The physical and emotional roller coaster of puberty can make a kid feel like aliens have taken over their body, right when they most want to be socially accepted and confident. It’s no wonder that lots of tweens experience true anxiety. You can help your child navigate those tough years by learning the 5 signs of anxiety in children. Then walk your child through some steps to deal with stress using our Anxiety Discussion Guide.
1. Complaining of illness
Many tweens begin to complain of vague physical symptoms like a stomachache or a headache and want to stay home from school. Start by treating the symptoms as if they’re purely physical (an antacid to settle an upset tummy or more fruits and veggies to improve digestion). If these fail to resolve your child’s concerns, ask if she’s worried about something at school. Often a deeper inquiry will reveal that the source of the physical discomfort is also psychological. Talk about what is causing stress, be it grades or friends, and help your child learn to cope with the challenges.
Tweens and teens who feel they can’t cope with the social pressures may start to keep to themselves more as a defense. If you see your child backing away from activities and friends he used to enjoy, have a talk about why his behavior has changed to see if there’s a specific source of anxiety which could be eliminated.
Moodiness, sadness or irritability is often chalked up by parents as a normal rite of passage for an adolescent. And to some extent, it is. However, healthy teens may suffer a couple of days of grumpiness or the blues but will bounce back and regain their normal outlook soon. Sadness or moodiness that persists for more than a couple of weeks may be a sign of true depression, which is a close companion to anxiety. If your child gets into a funk that doesn’t resolve quickly, check with your pediatrician to see if treatment may be needed.
4. Low Self-Esteem
Your tween may be so overcome with a fear of peer rejection that she no longer has an accurate sense of herself. You can help this to some extent by reminding your child of her talents and positive attributes. But, children of this age look more to their peers for this affirmation than to their parents so don’t be surprised if she has a hard time being satisfied with your encouragement alone.
5. Constant Fear of Embarrassment
Children of this age can be almost paralyzed by the fear of even the smallest amount of negative attention from peers. Tripping in class or being teased for their appearance can go from a mild fear to a source of serious social anxiety.
If you’re still unsure whether your child’s anxiety is normal prepubescent behavior or something that requires intervention, talk to your family physician. Fortunately, even for serious cases, there are effective therapies and medications for anxiety disorders which can help your child return to a happier, more confident kid.
Tell us! How do you cope with feelings of anxiety?