What Does Anxiety Really Look Like with Children and Adolescents?
With children and adolescents, anxiety isn’t necessarily pacing or writhing your hands. It can look different. It can actually be confusing. What you might see is:
- inattention, poor focus
- somatic symptoms – headaches, stomachaches
Children who are anxious don’t always know that they feel anxious. They just know that they don’t like how they feel, they don’t know how to make it stop, and so they let you know how children know how to by. Instead, it’s very easy for parents and teachers to interpret anxious behaviors as negative behaviors and to want to create a behavioral plan or chart.
My mantra is: No Child Wakes Up and Decides to Be Behavioral. That’s not how it works. Instead, when you, as the parent, begin to notice a change in behaviors, that’s when your antennae should perk up. Instead of ‘fighting’ back, I recommend that you let your child know that you know something is different and to make yourself available as a parent to listen and sympathize.
Here are some signs to look for that may be a sign of anxiety and emotional struggle:
- refusing to go to school
- having meltdowns before school about clothing, hair, shoes, socks
- having meltdowns after school about homework
- having difficulties with transitions within school, and between school and an activity/sport
- having difficulty settling down for bed
- having high expectations for school work, homework and sports performance
- talking back, fighting rules, being ‘fresh’
It’s very easy as a parent to think that your child has a behavioral problem, an Oppositional Defiance Disorder even. However, look closer. There’s a strong likelihood that your child is anxious, very anxious.
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