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Can children be anxious? (Yes.)

In our last post we looked at many symptoms of anxiety, some which are often overlooked or misunderstood. I want to focus today on children.

Maybe because we assume kids are carefree, maybe because we’ve heard too many times that “kids are resilient,” or maybe because our hearts can’t bear the thought, we often fail to recognize anxiety in children.

As family members, teachers, mentors, or any other role in which we serve children, we must recognize:

Children are not inherently carefree or oblivious to stress;
children can experience anxiety;
and resilience is not innate.

A variety of factors may play a role in a child’s experience of anxiety, including (but not limited to) genetics, personality type, adverse experiences, early attachment, environment, and physical health. It is also important to recognize not all anxieties are the same. A child may experience Separation Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, or Generalized Anxiety Disorder. They may also experience specific phobias or panic attacks. (I first exhibited my phobia of needles at age 8!)

What should I look for?  

  1. Headaches or stomachaches without obvious cause
    A common misconception is that children complain of stomachaches to “get out of doing” something they don’t enjoy. While this may be true, it is also true that children with anxiety often do experience pain in their bodies. Adults do as well. 

  2. Nausea, crying, or pain when going somewhere new / trying something new

  3. Irritability and/or anger without obvious cause 

  4. “Clingy” or desire to stay home

  5. Crying more often or about situations that may appear trivial to you

  6. Trouble eating or lack of appetite

  7. Change in bowel function

  8. Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, sudden increase in bad dreams

Here’s the good news!

Our anxious children are not without hope! Anxiety is treatable. We can use a variety of proven interventions to alleviate current symptoms as well as help them manage anxiety over the course of their lives. 

The first step is recognizing our children could be experiencing anxiety and creating a supportive, validating space for them to express their worry. Sometimes a patient, thoughtful parent is enough, and sometimes a therapist is needed. 

For more information, this pamphlet by the Anxiety Disorders Association of American is a terrific place to start.

What remaining questions do you have about anxiety? Drop me a note at Meredith@MeredithMDangel.com or reach out on social media. I’d love to hear from you.

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