I shared a post on Facebook titled “Kids Don’t Tell You They Have Anxiety, They Say My Stomach Hurts”. This post had so many reaches and engagement that I felt the need to expand more in this blog post.
I have personal experience with my daughter receiving a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder at the age of 8 in 3rd grade. She is now 18 and we have learned so much from our journey.
Here we go . . .
Children don’t have the words to describe anxiety. They often will complain of stomach or a headache. Anxiety is probably not the first thing that comes to a parent’s head when hearing their child complain.
My daughter was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in 3rd grade. We noticed that she was complaining of stomach aches only when she had school. This was showing us a pattern. At this time she also had violent outbursts, excessive worry, school avoidance, what if questions, and sleeping issues. In 4th grade, she was diagnosed with migraines, as she was complaining of daily headaches.
It can be hard to recognize or distinguish pain in children. Make sure you seek medical care if the pain is worse or often as it could be something serious. It is also important to recognize the potential signs of childhood anxiety. There are emotional, behavioral, and physical signs to watch for.
Here are three areas you should know about, according to experts from the UCLA Child Anxiety Resilience Education and Supports (CARES) Center, John Piacentini, Ph.D., and Lindsey Bergman, Ph.D. (3)
1) Emotional Signs of Anxiety in Children
Gets grouchy or angry without any clear reason
Afraid of making mistakes (even minor ones)
Gets extremely anxious before/during tests
Has panic attacks (or is afraid of having panic attacks)
Has phobias and exaggerated fears
Worries about things that are far in the future
Is worried or afraid during drop-offs
Frequent nightmares about losing a parent or loved one
Worries and fears distract them from playing
Has obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors
Has meltdowns or tantrums
2) Behavioral Signs of Anxiety in Children
Constantly asks “What if?”
Avoids participating during circle time or other class activities
Remains silent or preoccupied during group work
Makes excuses to get out of going to school
Stays inside or alone during lunch or recess
Avoids social situations with peers after school or on weekends
Becomes emotional or angry when separating from parents or loved ones
Constantly seeks approval from friends, parents, and teachers
Gives up before trying things
3) Physical Signs of Anxiety in Children
Complains of headaches or stomach aches often
Won’t eat snacks or lunch at daycare or school
Refuses to use restrooms except at home
Gets distracted, restless, hyperactive, or fidgety (even without an ADHD diagnosis)
Begins sweating or shaking in new or intimidating
Muscles are constantly tensed
Can’t easily fall or stay asleep
So, what you probably want to know is how you can help your child. First, I want to share with you that our journey started out as anxiety and then went into other mental illness diagnosis. This doesn’t mean it will happen to you. I just want you to have awareness. What I found along our journey was that my now 18-year-old daughter is a gifted, highly sensitive & highly creative child, now adult. Often gifted and sensitive children are anxious. These unique children and their parents have become very important to me, they hold a special place in my heart and in my life. It is my passion to support the social, emotional, and educational needs of gifted, highly sensitive, highly creative and other unique children. Reach out to me if you need additional support.
· Pay close attention to your child’s feelings and words. They can be subtle.
· When your child becomes anxious, do your best to stay calm. It will be hard to help keep your child grounded if both of you are anxious. They can feel your energy and react.
· Recognize and praise small accomplishments. Sometimes an episode of anxiety can be remedied by a burst of positivity in a child’s life.
· Don’t punish mistakes or lack of progress. Every mistake made is an opportunity for growth and learning.
· Try to maintain a normal routine.
· Adapt. Not everything will always go as planned and it is Ok.
· Plan for transitions. What might this look like? For example, making sure you give your child extra time if getting to school is difficult). Let the child know ahead of time what to expect.
Know that you are not alone. There are many families dealing with anxious kids during this time. Often these kids are the ones that look at the world differently and their gifts are needed.
Schedule a FREE Discovery Call with me to see if I can help!