With just over 7% of children aged 3-17 years having been diagnosed with anxiety, it has never been more important to recognise the early signs of symptoms and suffering in youngsters. There are many signifiers that your child may be suffering from anxiety or associated disorders. These can be obvious physical signs, emotional changes or subtle behaviour alterations.
Early Signs Of Anxiety
Noticing and managing anxiety in young children can avoid worsening conditions later in life. Untreated mental health disorders have the potential to lead to much more severe issues during adolescent years or intensified anxiety over time that can affect the quality of life and ability to function in adulthood.
Teaching your kids mindfulness is a very good way to alleviate stress and feelings of anxiety. But, sometimes anxiety can take over. Understanding signs of mental health struggles could mean you are able to spot some of the tell-tale signs that your children may be struggling more seriously with anxiety.
In this article, we will outline some of the early signs to look out for that indicate your kids may be suffering from anxiety.
Some of the easiest signs that your child may be experiencing anxiety are physical symptoms. These are a result of the ‘fight or flight’ response, the body’s normal reaction to feeling fear or danger. This can trigger the release of natural chemicals in the body which causes certain physical bodily functions or actions.
Though these physical symptoms may be occurring internally within your child’s body, like an increased heart rate or feeling hot, these can also impact them physically. Listen to their breathing pattern, and notice if it is quickening or they seem short of breath – this could be a sign they are experiencing anxiety.
Similarly, spotting if they are sweating, or trying to rapidly adjust their temperature, like removing some layers to counteract temperature increase. With their consent, feel if their face is hot, or their hands are clammy.
Anxiety can also disrupt digestion, so look out for complaints of stomach aches or avoiding food due to ‘feeling sick’. Similarly, headaches without a medical cause could be worth exploring further.
Although these symptoms can be more obvious, sometimes they can be misunderstood as physical illnesses, rather than mental health disorders. If you begin to notice any of these signs, look out for some emotional or behavioural changes that, together, could indicate they are suffering anxiety.
You may notice emotional changes in your kids, but this doesn’t always mean they are experiencing anxiety. Roller-coaster emotions can happen in key growth periods when hormones are surging, and before puberty hits.
However, some emotional changes could be an indication that they are struggling with anxiety. This could present itself in your child being more ‘sensitive’ than usual, or crying more often about seemingly small things, or over nothing at all.
They may have a shorter fuse, becoming angry quickly or without a clear reason. Similarly, being generally grouchy may be a sign of mental stress, or lesser through being irritable or argumentative.
Another way mental health can manifest is subconsciously in dreams or worrying about situations that may not happen. This could trigger when in periods of transition, like at the end of school holidays.
Generally, encouraging your children to talk to you, or someone they trust, about their feelings and emotions, is good practice. Having open communication could mean that you pick up on these emotional signals early and help your child regulate their emotions.
Often, people who suffer from anxiety experience behavioural changes. Sometimes this is on purpose to avoid triggers, and others it is unconscious. However, behaviour changes are important to recognise.
This could be seen in changes to their sleeping patterns; either sleeping too much, or not enough. If your child is having difficulty falling asleep, or they try to stay up later to avoid sleeping, this could be indicative of nightmares or feeling overwhelmed by many thoughts.
Alternatively, they may sleep far more than usual. Feeling anxious all day can take a lot of energy, so oversleeping is something to look out for. Wanting to sleep more could also be avoidance, to get out of situations that cause them anxiety.
Suddenly being more clingy than usual and suffering from separation anxiety could also be a sign. Typically this could also link to refusing to go to school or feigning illness to stay off school and be with you.
Similarly, difficulties socialising with other children and being obviously uncomfortable meeting new people may not just be shyness. If they are usually chatty and suddenly seem more quiet or even silent, this could also be something to note.
Many of these symptoms are linked. For example, grumpiness could be caused by tiredness as a result of avoiding or struggling to sleep. If you think your child is showing some, or several signs of anxiety, you may want to keep a note and look out for any patterns. This could help you determine if it’s time to seek further help.
Experiencing anxiety at any age can be scary and overwhelming. Remember not to confront your child or accuse them of anything. This could lead them to be more secretive with their struggles, or even increase their anxiety.
Approach the conversation in a safe environment and allow them room to talk when they feel comfortable. Don’t ask leading questions and most importantly, remind them that you are there to help and to listen. Reiterate that their feelings are completely normal and many others experience it.
Encouraging them to try mindfulness activities, ensuring they eat a balanced diet and live an active lifestyle can all help with their overall mental wellbeing. But don’t forget to seek professional help from doctors or psychiatrists if you’re worried about your child’s anxiety.
This article was written exclusively for MindPanda by mental health writer Sophie Bishop