Child anxiety in young children is different to the normal anxiousness they tend to feel when faced with an unknown. For some children, anxiety escalates to a point where it negatively impacts their lives. Thus, without intervention it can have longer term repercussions and prevent them from flourishing. By understanding what child anxiety is, and how to support an anxious child, it is possible to help them.
Why is Your Child Anxious?
Some children are generally more anxious than others. Certain situations will also tend to cause kids to be more nervous than usual.
5 Situations which could cause Kids to be more Nervous
- Change eg: A new school or home
- Not understanding or misunderstanding something
- Arguments at home or within a family
- Unfamiliar social settings
- Witnessing or having a distressing / traumatic experience
When is Anxiety a Problem?
Children are able to develop an anxiety disorder. Severe anxiety in a child can harm their mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. It can negatively impact their self-esteem and cause them to be increasingly isolated. Thereby, negatively impacting their social development.
4 Possible Causes of a Child Anxiety Disorder
- Genetics: A medical history of anxiety within a family
- Chemical Imbalances: A short supply or lack of certain brain chemicals, such as serotonin
- Situational: Stressful or difficult events eg: Death, illness or violence
- Learned Behavior: Copying reactions and behaviors of those around them
What does Child Anxiety look like?
Anxiety in children can manifest with different combinations of symptoms. Therefore, it can sometimes be challenging to know what is or isn’t linked to a childhood developmental phase. For example, it’s not unusual for a 4–5-year-old to suddenly believe there is a monster under their bed. Usually this will occur while they are discovering and learning to understand abstract concepts. Most children in this phase of development will, after some reassurance, checking under their beds or turning on a nightlight, settle down and sleep.
Symptoms linked to an anxiety disorder may appear suddenly or evolve overtime. For example, a child may start to experience nightmares because they are worried about something. Then overtime, not wanting to go to sleep and starting to complain a lot about having a sore tummy.
10 Signs of an Anxious Child
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Not wanting to sleep, bad dreams or waking a lot at night.
- Not eating properly.
- Continuously worrying and negative thoughts.
- Using the toilet often.
- Agitated, tense, fidgety.
- Getting angry quickly or being irritable often with outbursts that are uncontrolled.
- Crying a lot and being clingy.
- Wetting their bed.
- Complaining of feeling sick and/or having a sore tummy.
What to do when a Child is Anxious
The first thing to do when a child is anxious is listen to them and provide reassurance. You may find it difficult to do this because what they are sharing seems illogical or made-up. However, always remember, for them it is very real and therefore shouldn’t be brushed aside or belittled. Instead get them to unpack what they think, why it’s bugging them and encourage them to identify their feelings.
5 Ways to Help an Anxious Child
- Create a regular daily routine.
- Teach them to identify when they are anxious and how to think through what’s causing it.
- Practice relaxing breathing techniques with them.
- Distract them eg: play games on the way to school if they are anxious about school.
- Help them to write down what’s bugging them and then put it into a worry box.
When to Seek Help
If you suspect your child has an anxiety disorder, then a trained professional will need to confirm it. They will want to talk to the child as well as yourself or any other primary caregivers. The questions they ask will be to understand what triggers your child’s anxiety and fears.
It is generally advisable to seek help:
- When a child is increasingly anxious.
- When reassuring them and self-help techniques aren’t working.
- If their anxiousness affects their friendships, school work or family life.
Often parents start by consulting their family General Practitioner (GP) or a child’s Paediatrician. They will then be advised on a way forward. A care-path for an anxiety disorder is dependent on the individual child. Thus, it could involve implementing systems at home, seeing a therapist, medication or a combination of interventions.
It is possible for a child to grow out of their anxiety. They may simply need reassurance from their loved ones and those they trust. Alternatively, they might require a more specialist intervention. The important thing is that by acknowledging and helping your child with their anxiety, you are teaching them life long skills. Ones that can help them to confidently face challenges, persevere when things get difficult and flourish.
Become a Child Psychologist
Are you interested in helping children overcome their anxiety? SACAP (The South African College of Applied Psychology) has courses that will allow you to pursue a career in Psychology. Contact an advisor today or to apply online click here.
1. What can cause an anxiety disorder in kids?
Four common causes for child anxiety are:
- Genetic predisposition
- Brain chemical imbalances
- Learnt behaviours
- Situational Stress
2. When to seek help for an anxious child?
When a child’s friendships, school and family life is negatively affected. Or their anxiety is escalating and self-help techniques aren’t assisting them, then it is advisable to seek professional assistance.
3. How to identify child anxiety?
There are a number of symptoms that can be caused by child anxiety. For example: Difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, agitation and getting angry quickly, uncontrollable outbursts, complaints of feeling sick and having a sore tummy or wetting a bed despite being potty trained.