Hi, you’ve arrived at this blog post because you are looking for information on anxiety in children.
After almost 18 years of experience working with children and their worries, emotions and behaviour, I’ve come across kids from all walks of life and with very different life experiences. Some have had problems with overthinking and negative thinking. Others with emotional difficulties. Then there are those whose behaviour has changed for the worse. For many, their family are suffering from the ripples caused by the child’s problems and emotions.
Every child had a different way of seeing their world and reacting to it
There are a wide range of symptoms possible, from over-worrying to phobias and self isolation to bullying and aggression. They all come from a single point, whether that be a dread of being out of control or lack of self belief and confidence…Anxiety
So when should I get concerned about my child’s emotional or behavioural changes?
The short answer to this is twofold:
When your child’s behavior or responses to their life and environment is obviously negative and happening regularly or for an extended period of time.
If and when you feel it’s more than just a short-term problem. You know your kids better than anyone and your gut feeling shouldn’t be dismissed. Even if their other parent doesn’t see significance in changes.
In clinic I often see parents who have very different ideas about their child’s problems, or doubts whether there is a problem at all. Sometimes just getting the child to open up a little about what they see is an issue, is enough to shift the doubting parent’s views.
Recently a 15 year old girl came in for a free screening session. Her mother was very worried about the way she’d begun to spend all her time at home in her bedroom, had become unusually intolerant of her little sister and was talking negatively in a way she’d not done before.
During the screening session the teenager opened up, just a little, to explain that she was anxious about going to school. She was worried about not doing well in a new science class. With a prompted 3-way discussion, her parent began to see that this wasn’t a short term teenage problem. It was an issue that had begun building for several months.
5 sessions of The Relaxed Living Programme later, she was standing up to her (mildly bullying) best friend. She had begun to do well in the class she dreaded and was even starting to get on with her teacher in that subject.
None of these were possible previously and it’s safe to say that when she (calmly and unusually) insisted on being retested after not doing as well in a coursework activity as she felt she could have, her Mother was near to tears with pride. At home the family had begun to talk about the “old” X and the “new” X and that was a proud moment for me too!
2. When they express their fears or tell you (whether joking or not) that they can’t deal with a particular problem environment
It’s easy to miss a throwaway comment, but is there a pattern building? Is your child regularly talking down their ability and character? Have they withdrawn from usual activities, lost interest in previous passions or stopped joining in with things they were always comfortable with? Often it’ll be an “I’m useless at maths,” “hockey is for losers,” “there’s not point in doing X, I never do well” Or, perhaps you encourage them to do something, get no real explanation, just “you don’t understand.”
What is normal for children and what is anxiety in children?
It’s perfectly normal for children to go through phases where they will withdraw or become challenging. This is usually in response to a particular event in their life.
They may have fallen out with friends, been embarrassed in a social setting, failed at a test or in a competition. Or maybe it’s something bigger; a loved one is ill or has died, they’ve had an illness or spent time in hospital, or they’ve moved house or started or are starting at a new school.
All of these, and so much more, disrupt the rhythm of their lives and, with little life experience to help them navigate big changes. They may turn inwards, or outwards, in response. The people who will bear the brunt of those character and behavior changes are their nearest and dearest.
For most the ripples will settle in a short period of time.
Then again, (seemly unrelated) changes may arise in the months to follow. For others this is the start of an increasing and ongoing issue.
Little ones, tweens and teenagers
Responses to problems can be the same across the board;
- behavioral change
- negative attitudes
- avoiding events/activities
- verbal aggression
- physical aggression
to name but a few, however, there will be differences across the groups. This is mainly due to the level of understanding and life experience the child has in coming to terms with their issues
7 – 10 Year Olds
The youngest group I work one to one with is the 7-10 year olds (below that age I work with parents and train them to deliver therapy at home.) At this age, Sleeplessness, bed wetting (when they haven’t done this for some time,) aggression and withdrawal are most common. Although not the only possibilities.
Regressing to baby like behaviour is common; becoming more clingy or attention seeking, nightmares and worry about people close leaving or dying are recurrent themes. Often at this age the child has little or no idea of the cause or start of the problem and is seeking comfort and reassurance. They do this because they don’t know how to comfort and reassure themselves.
10 – 13 Year Olds
The 10-13 year olds are heading into puberty and that brings it’s own problems. Their bodies are changing and hormones are beginning to affect their feelings and responses…sometimes quite dramatically! They can suffer from all the issues of the younger group but are aware that this isn’t “normal” so that causes it’s own problems.
Children in this age group are heading into the academic measurement system at school and become aware very early on where they fit against friends and family members. Again sleep issues, fear of being away from parents and of losing those close to them are big issues. However, because they realise that this isn’t something they’re “meant” to do, the beginning of Social Anxiety (a fear of being judged or belief they will be judged) around this time in their life adds to initial worries.
In the last 18 years I have seen anxiety in children and Social Anxiety issues grow massively in this group. We can blame social media or advertising, pushing the “norm” and what is seen to be “essential.” Peer pressure is very real. The drive to have the same/best mobile phones, gaming equipment and the “right” clothing. These children are growing up faster than they were doing 18 years ago and the associated problems are coming earlier than ever.
13-18 Year Olds
The final group, 13-18 year olds have all the issues of the previous two groups but, if not dealt with at the time they arose, they’ve become deep seated and it’s just become a way of thinking. Add to this being the key period of Social Anxiety in everyone’s life and we have a recipe for big problems, which will often follow them into adulthood.
Pressure to fit in at school, online and in society generally is added to the weight of constant testing at school and that’s a recipe for very low self esteem and anxiety in children
If you remember your childhood you’ll recall saying the wrong thing, being embarrassed by mistakes. Of not living up to others’ expectations (and often those expectations are made up by the child themselves, rather than from those around them.) On the cusp of independant life but with limited life experience and the likelihood of making mistakes can be crushing to kids’ self esteem and the beginning of anxiety in children.
A 13 year old boy had stopped going to school almost entirely, he was verbally abusive and aggressive towards his Mother and refused to join in with the wider family. He was quiet at the Free Screening Session, just dropping in to say his Mother was overreacting “as always” and that he was “bored” at school and “didn’t need to go.”
His parents had very different views on his behaviour. He lives with her Mother and spends every other weekend with his Father at his home. Whilst away at the weekend he had become more withdrawn than usual, not wanting to join in previously enjoyed activities, but usually did not use insults or aggression towards his Dad
At the Free Screening Session, he hardly spoke, except to verbally attack and put down his Mum’s opinions. This was the first time his Dad had seen/heard that type of behaviour. Whilst he still thought the issue was probably short-term, he realised that it was more of a problem than he had thought.
We began the Relaxed Living Programme, with the child agreeing to “go along with it to keep them off my back and prove it’s their problem not mine.” Within 2 sessions he had begun to talk about a very embarrasing experience at school. Initially downplaying this and blaming the event on the “losers” at school, he began to see that he had played a part and that he now felt he “couldn’t go back there.” Learning to accept and process the experience and his (and friends’) reactions helped him to get it into perspective and finally begin to set it aside.
With the help of both parents and the school he started back at school 3 weeks later. Initally for a few hours a week and within a few weeks, full time.
How do I help my child?
There’s a lot you can do yourself, at home, if you think your kids are behaving unusually;
They bring up a subject a few times
- That’s the time to STOP, ask questions, then, SHUT UP AND LISTEN!!!! Often, just by staying quiet you can encourage your kids to open up. Now is not the time to throw in your take on the situation…this is information gathering. From those conversations you can work out how big the problem might be.
If they tell you there is a problem
- Work WITH them to decide how they might handle it. Unless they are being severely bullied or there is a serious threat to their life, now is not the time to take matters into your hands. They may want you to act on their behalf, but that might also be their biggest dread. Learning to deal with problems is something we all have to face. Sometimes just knowing we’ve got someone to run our thoughts past, who’s on our side, is enough to give us the strength to change the situation.
When someone else alerts you to a problem
- This might come from another parent, a sibling or the school.
- Firstly; make sure you are calm and ready for a discussion…don’t wade in with all guns blazing!
- Find a time to talk to your child when there aren’t others about. Try to keep their confidentiality, at least initially, while you get their facts.
- STOP, ask questions, then, SHUT UP AND LISTEN!!!! As in the first bullet point above in this section. Give them the space to tell you. Gather information to work out how big the problem really is. You then have a chance to work out a solution with your child
Remember that their day to day life is different to yours at that age. Help them to take control, to decide how to manage problems and they’ll learn how to do that the rest of their lives. Anxiety in children is common and above all, can be resolved
These tips won’t work in every situation, but they will help with many. You can get more information about the therapies I offer for anxiety in children on my childhood therapy page.
If you need more help or information, please do give me a call on 07500907428 or email: Sue@LutterworthHealth.co.uk