Answering your common questions surrounding anxiety and children.
Throughout your day—whether you’re on your weekly grocery run, in an important business meeting, or even on a date night with your partner—your kids are likely on your mind. Your children are your priority. That’s why we immediately notice changes, whether big or small, in their mood, behavior, or actions.
Have you noticed any changes that could be a sign that your child is dealing with anxiety? These changes aren’t necessarily easy to pinpoint. Anxiety is so common that nearly 40 million adults experience it. Because it is so common amongst adults, they can often overlook signs of anxiety in kids, primarily because they 1) aren’t showing any symptoms or 2) the symptoms they are experiencing are brushed off because it has become “normal” in this day and age.
Did You Know? Anxiety disorders affect 25.1% of children between 13 and 18 years old.
What causes anxiety?
There can be many causes that can result in children experiencing anxiety, whether it be short-term or long-lasting. Here are a few of the most common:
- Genetics: families that have anxiety disorders in their family lineage can pass it on through generations.
- Traumatic life events, emergencies, or environment: childhood abuse of any kind, childhood neglect, death of a loved one, exposure to domestic violence (or any violence) at a young age, etc. can be a cause of anxiety.
- Brain chemistry: if specific brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) are lacking in certain areas, this can trigger anxiety responses.
- A learned behavior: if children grow up in a household or are around other individuals that are commonly “fearful” or experience high anxiety in most situations, they will mirror this and consider it a normal response.
- Low self-esteem: experiencing low self-esteem and lack of confidence can be a root cause of anxiety disorders.
- Severe Illness: if your child or one of their loved ones was or is diagnosed with a severe illness this can cause anxiety towards their health. This is also referred to as hypochondria.
Signs your kid might be experiencing anxiety
Often, children are unable to realize that what they’re going through is considered a form of anxiety. Because of that, they usually don’t seek help or bring up their concerns to those around them.
Here are some signs you can look out for as their guardian:
- Developing a nervous habit: nail biting, fidgety fingers, foot tapping, hair pulling, etc.
- Withdrawal from socializing, whether from friends or family
- Inability to concentrate
- Developing fears and/or paranoia (i.e. scared of the dark, unable to sleep alone, etc.)
- Intensely avoiding specific situations, places, and/or objects
Keep in mind that although symptoms of anxiety can appear behaviorally and emotionally, there can also be physical symptoms. Here are a few of the physical symptoms of anxiety you can look out for:
- Dry mouth
- Heart palpitations
- Breathing faster
- Poor sleeping patterns
- Tingly hands and/or feet
- Tense muscles
Note: Anxiety looks and feels different for everyone. If your child isn’t experiencing all of the above, that doesn’t necessarily mean that what they are going through isn’t related to an anxiety disorder. It can come in all shapes and sizes.
What parents can do to help their kid with anxiety
It often feels that a lot of our job as parents consists of worrying. So you are likely wondering how can you support and help your kiddo navigate the anxiety that they are experiencing either emotionally and/or physically. This can be done through simply being an ear to listen, getting them the help they need, or teaching them healthy outlets to get their stress out.
Let’s take a look at some of the parental support you can provide that has been studied and even proven to help your kid navigate life with their anxiety.
Changes you can make
- Make your home a calm, relaxing environment, especially their room.
- Add in more family game nights and/or outings so they can relax and let loose at home.
- Limit your child’s use of social media, television, and gaming devices.
- Develop a standard weekly routine to add more structure to their life.
- Simply be an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on.
Actions you can take
- Find your child a therapist that can help them navigate the anxiety they are experiencing, especially if it is challenging for you to relate to and/or understand.
- Make physical activity and healthy outlets—such as painting, going for family walks, drawing together, or journaling your thoughts–standard practices in your household. Often, if parents develop these healthy habits, kids are more likely to mirror them.
- Be a positive support system. Incorporating words of affirmation and encouragement will help them redirect their thoughts in the future.
- Remove caffeinated beverages from the household, or limit them. Coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks all can cause and/or worsen anxiety.
- Get to know their disorder and brainstorm ways they can manage their anxious thoughts, whether that be through journaling, talking with friends, meditating, or doing breathing exercises.
Although you may be making all of the recommended adjustments in and out of your household, their anxiety may not go away. If it worsens or gets to be challenging to navigate day-to-day responsibilities for them, you can discuss medication options and/or psychotherapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
You’re doing great
Being a parent is hard work. If your kid is experiencing anxiety, or any mental health disorder for that matter, it does not mean it is a direct result of your parenting habits. Try to not be so fast in taking the blame, although as parents, that is way easier said than done.
Just know that you are taking the correct steps by taking the time to read this article and by researching ways you can support your child in any way you can. If they aren’t now, I’m sure you kiddo will be thanking you in the future.
For more parenting tips and advice, follow along on our Hospitality Health ER blog. We’ve recently covered “Why Yelling at Kids Can Be Harmful” and “Easing Back to School Anxiety.” For giveaways, updates, and COVID-19 tips, like us on Facebook and Instagram.