When I was in sixth grade, I had trouble falling asleep. I would lay in bed, riddled with anxiety, knowing I’d have to get up and go to a school I hated. Every day, people teased and bullied me. Fortunately, my mom paid close attention to my behavior and sensed something was wrong. She intervened by getting me the help I needed. According to the CDC, over four million kids deal with anxiety every year, which means there are most likely millions more who suffer in silence.
What do kids have anxiety about? Some are anxious about grades, tests, fitting in with friends, excelling in sports, the way they look, tension between their parents. Others are anxious about being teased or bullied like I was, separation from their parents, making mistakes, or peer pressure. Does your child have anxiety? Here’s what to look for in your children—and how to help them through it.
Learn about your child.
Watch for signs of anxiety. Watch for patterns, such as consistent complaints of illness. If your child complains often of a stomachache, isolate and evaluate. Are the stomachaches primarily happening on school days or every day? Was there a test that day or a baseball game? If the stomachache is every school day, with or without a test, try to learn more about your child’s social situation at school. The sooner you intervene and develop a plan, the healthier your child will be—physically, academically, and socially.
Learn the signs of anxiety.
A child who suffers from anxiety may exhibit unusual clinginess (or fear of leaving your presence), impulsiveness or distraction, or nervous movements such as twitches. They may have irritability, sleep problems (including difficulty falling asleep or sleeping longer than usual), sweaty hands, or a rapid heart rate and breathing. Anxiety in kids sometimes shows up as paleness or dizziness, nausea, headaches, stomachaches, self-criticism, or low self-esteem.
Learn what to do.
Be available. Try to plan your day so that when you are home with your child, especially at bedtime, you are available to engage them in conversation. Take an interest in what happened at school, daycare, or team practices. Casually and often, ask how things are going. And listen carefully—be prepared to read between the lines. Getting detailed responses often takes more probing with boys, so use specific questions. Rather than asking whether he enjoyed lunch, ask who he sat with at lunch. And know that there are good reasons to seek help for an anxious child from a licensed counselor.
Learn what to say.
By responding to your child with reassuring comments, your child will feel supported and understood. This alone can alleviate anxiety for children. Reassuring comments are most effective after your child has had adequate time to express his or her feelings. Reassure your children that you understand how they feel and you understand the problem. Comfort a child with hugs or encouraging words, or extra time together doing something your child enjoys.
What do you think is important in dealing with anxiety in kids?