You’re late – your child slept in because they struggled to get to sleep last night. You rush around trying to get everyone ready for the day ahead. Your child is crying or screaming, and telling you they don’t feel well. They don’t want to eat breakfast, because who wants to eat when they don’t feel well, right?
Yesterday it was the same story, only he was telling you he couldn’t breathe well.
Tomorrow she’ll be telling you she thinks she’s going to puke.
Some mornings it passes fairly quickly, and you’re relieved.
Some mornings it doesn’t, and it feels like all-out war. You’re exhausted by 8:30am, worried about your child and convinced somewhere along the way you messed up BIG TIME.
In the absence of other symptoms, and if this happens more than you’d care to admit, the situation might be serious – this could be anxiety.
Anxiety itself is
normal and useful
It keeps us on alert when danger is present; it can keep us safe.
It’s becomes a problem when it’s excessive, and there is no rational reason for the worry or fear.
Normal Anxiety: That person is making me feel anxious, I’m going to run away ASAP.dog bit .me last month, and now I’m anxious about all dogs. Excessive Anxiety: Every person I don’t know already makes me feel anxious; I’m going to avoid ALL of them, if possible.
Normal Anxiety: A dog bit me last month, and now I’m anxious about all dogs.
Excessive Anxiety: All animals trigger a complete meltdown that lasts for a long time.
Normal Anxiety: Being anxious on the first day of school.
Excessive Anxiety: Having anxiety every morning before school, when there is no rational explanation.
HOW CAN I TELL IF MY CHILD HAS ANXIETY?
Because they’re little, and don’t always know how to express what they’re feeling, AND because anxiety can be felt differently in different people, it can look like different things, which makes it tricky to figure out.
If you are able to get to the root of the symptoms, and determine if there is a valid cause, you will have a better idea if your child has anxiety. For example, if the tummy ache is rare, and accompanied by physical sickness vs. frequent and happens at the same time every day. OR if there was an incident that caused a specific phobia (e.g. dog attack, scary spider) vs. a phobia that has no origin that you know of.
Tantrums (FREAK OUTS!)
Withdrawals (FREAK INS)
Headache or Tummyache
Often Scared/ Worried
what is it though?
When people talk about ’having anxiety’, they might be talking about two different things. They could be talking about a diagnosed condition, or they might be using the term anxiety to describe a feeling.
Strictly speaking, anxiety isn’t a condition, it’s a feeling. It’s a natural emotion that is normal and healthy to feel sometimes, in the same way that it’s normal to feel anger, sadness and frustration. We WANT our kids to feel some anxiety, and to learn what to do with that BIG feeling, so that they can handle it when they are older. Kids who never learn to handle anxious feelings will struggle later in life.
Fight or Flight
Understanding anxiety requires understanding something called the “stress response” or the “fight or flight system.” This is a natural body process that prepares you, mentally and physically, to deal with challenges.
It starts with a stressor, usually some kind of perceived threat. This triggers the release of hormones, one class of the “messenger molecules” that help different parts of your mind and body communicate with each other.
These chemicals lead to a number of changes in the way in which your body works including changes that you probably don’t notice, like slowing down your digestion, and changes that you probably do notice – a faster heartbeat and faster breaths.
Faster breathing helps more oxygen get into your blood and a faster heartbeat helps to circulate that oxygenated blood through your body, especially to your muscles.
Usually, these symptoms come on somewhat gradually due to something that you have good reason to worry about. It usually isn’t scary, and it may even help you to do what you need to do to resolve or leave the situation.
Sometimes, however, it comes on quickly, which makes it seem more scary.
It may be brought on by fears of things that aren’t likely to happen.
Those changes to the heartbeat and breathing may be so severe that they cause chest pain and light-headedness. Your child may even feel like they are going to die. This is called an “anxiety attack” or a “panic attack” and it’s a major sign that they might have an anxiety disorder or a related condition.
Keep in mind that for kids, the perceived ‘threat’ might be something that to adults seems insignificant. A certain food texture, animals, new places or people can all be causes, and make children feel anxious.
What do I do about it?
There are a number of quizzes and symptom checkers online that you can use to try to determine whether your child has anxiety. None of them are substitutions for the diagnosis of a medical expert, however.
There are no real tests for anxiety, so a diagnosis of anxiety disorders and related conditions is usually based on the symptoms that a patient describes to a general healthcare provider or mental health expert.
Treatments may range from prescription medications to talk-therapy, to diet and lifestyle changes. These will depend on the nature and severity of the disorder and on the preferences of the individual.
Tips for at Home
Encourage them to practice deep breathing, to make sure the entire brain gets enough oxygen in times of stress.
- Blow bubbles often!
- Blow up balloons
- Practice deep breathing yourself, and encourage your child to copy your breathing pattern
- Pretend to blow out birthday candles
Read books that help them understand how they’re feeling, that’s it normal and learn how to handle their feelings.
Praise the effort, not the outcome.
Any attempt to solve the problem, try something new, or face a fear should be rewarded with praise (“You tried so hard!” “You must be so proud at that effort!”), as opposed to rewarding the outcome (“Yay, you WON!”)
Tips for at school
Check in regularly to make sure your child is getting the support they need
Let the teacher know your concerns about your child’s anxiety.
Try to be specific, saying your child has anxiety isn’t enough for the teacher to take action on
When is your child most likely to be anxious?
- beginning of day
- eating times
- group times
- talking out loud to the group
Share what strategies work at home
- relaxation strategies
- talking it out
- having a few minutes alone