Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns for children and adults. However, because children with anxiety are more likely to be quiet and compliant, it is less likely to be noticed by teachers than stereotypical "diifficult" or "disruptive" behaviour. And when it is noticed, it can be difficult to convince professionals that your child needs help, because they aren't obviously causing problems in school.
But, if you are the parent of an anxious child, you will know that it is something that can affect them in all parts of their life, and can be really worrying for both child and parent alike.
I have two children. One is very anxious, the other could not be more laid back. Situations that one takes in their stride cause the other such worry and concern, and we have come up with ways to help manage this anxiety.
Here are a few examples of behaviour that is common in anxious children. If they display some or all of these, then it's likely that your child is experiencing some form of anxiety:
Separation anxiety: crying every day when you have to leave them somewhere, perhaps they also cling on to you physically or have screaming tantrums. In a younger child, the people you leave them with (e.g. nursery school, child minder) will be able to tell you if the behaviour is more sustained and intense than they would usually expect (because, of course, many children do not like to be separated from their parents). In an older child, they may start to make excuses for not going to things like school trips, or Scout camp, but will be happier if you are going too.
The fear of being lost is a common one for many children.
Constant worrying - asking the same question can be an indication of a real anxiety about something (e.g. when a child is ill they might repeatedly ask, "Do you think I will be okay?", or "Is this bad?").
Regular complaints of stomach aches and head aches with no associated physical illness - stomach aches may spontaneously occur when they're about to have to do something that they are anxious about.
Starting to withdraw from activities that they used to enjoy.
Seeking constant reassurance from parents and other adults about everyday concerns.
Familiar questions and statements for parents of anxious children
These are some of the sings of anxiety, but they are not the only ones, and nor do they necessarily mean your child is definitely suffering from anxiety. All children, at some point, will display the symptoms above, but if you have an anxious child you will be coping with at least some of these symptoms every day.
In my next article, I will be talking about ways you can support a child with anxiety.
IMPORTANT: This is not a substitute for a professional diagnosis and support. If you are worried about your child's mental health, then do not hestitate to make an appointment with your family doctor or school nurse.
In addition to helping identify how severe the anxiety is (and providing a referral to a mental health professional, if required), it is always valuable to make sure that they don't have an underlying health condition that could be causing these symptoms.