Anxiety can affect people of all ages but it can be particularly difficult to recognise in children as it unlikely that they will have the vocabulary to explain their feelings. Some children may be aware that they feel “different” and try to hide their feelings or emotions, exasperating the problem. Of course, feeling anxious or worried from time to time is normal, but it needs to be addressed if it lasts for a sustained period.
As the top kindergarten in Bangkok, we always monitor children’s behaviour to spot if they feel anxious. The early it is recognised, the earlier it can be treated. In many cases, this will be some reassurance and putting some perspective back on an issue. However, if anxiety starts becoming noticeable in behaviour and it affects their everyday thought process, which, in turn, will impact the home, social and school life, professional help may be required.
What are the symptoms of anxiety in children?
As a parent, you are the one who is perfectly positioned to monitor changes in your child’s behaviour. However, it is equally common for parents to dismiss their concerns, believing that they are overprotective. Children are likely to feel embarrassed by their feelings, so they will try to hide them where possible. Common behavioural changes that parents and teachers should look out for include:
- Problems with concentration – it is a concern when there appears to be no reason for poor concentration, such as outside distractions
- Poor sleeping patterns – we can all suffer from mild cases of insomnia on occasions, but if your child is struggling to get to sleep or is frequently waking up during the night, it is generally a sign that something is troubling them. Often disturbed nights are accompanied by nightmares which may help explain the root cause of the anxiety
- Changes in appetite – anyone who is struggling with anxiety may experience changes in their appetite. It can be both a loss of appetite or increased eating potentially of junk food as a source of comfort
- Heightened sense of worry or experience negative thoughts – constantly worrying or continually being negative about themselves or situations is always something that should start alarm bells ringing. While some people naturally worry or are less optimistic than others, it not normal for it to be excessive
- Increased bouts of anger or irritability – children who are experiencing stress or anxiety are likely to be shorter tempered and more irritable than usual. Some of the outbursts may appear to be out of control and out of character. It can often be closely linked to tiredness but is a sign that should not be overlooked
- Visible signs of tenseness or excessive fidgeting – being tense or fidgeting a lot is a common sign of anxiety. Sometimes people may be unaware what they doing, while other signs, such as visiting the toilet on numerous occasions, can be a coping mechanism
- Constant crying – if your child has started crying without apparent reason, it can often be a sign of anxiety
- Becoming clingy – younger children, in particular, can worry if they are too far from their parents, but unusual clinginess is a sign that they a worried about something and are looking to you for protection or reassurance
- Complaining of feeling unwell –when children claim to be feeling unwell but are presenting no signs of illness, it frequently a sign of anxiety. They may be complaining of “tummy aches”, which could be “butterflies”, a common symptom of nerves
Younger children tend to feel separation anxiety, whereas older and children, especially teenagers, tend to be more worried about their peers, how they are perceived, or their schooling, known as social anxiety.
What are the common causes of anxiety in children?
When discussing anxiety, things must be kept in perspective as some children are better at coping than others; likewise, some children are naturally more anxious than others. Children are also very perceptive and can detect when others are anxious and replicate their actions or emotions. However, common causes of anxiety include:
- Moving house or changing school, especially if this happens frequently
- Tension in the home, such as parents fighting or arguing
- A bereavement to a close family member, friend or pet
- Being involved in an accident or becoming seriously ill, particularly if it requires hospitalisation
- Problems in or out of school such as bullying or underperforming compared to their peers
- If they are abused or neglected at home or elsewhere
Children with autism spectrum disorders or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are also more prone to experience anxiety problems.
What can you do to help if your child is anxious?
If you believe that your child is experiencing problems with anxiety, the first things you should always do is talk to them openly. You mustn’t pass judgement or dismiss their concerns. Regardless of how “silly” you may feel their problems are, they don’t feel the same way.
For younger children, receiving reassurance and offering an explanation that they understand, such as why they don’t need to worry, will usually mean that the anxieties go away of their own accord. However, we would suggest that you seek professional advice:
- If your child isn’t getting better, or indeed, getting worse
- Self-help techniques aren’t working
- If the anxiety is affecting other aspects of their life such as family or school life
What are the professional treatments for anxiety?
There are various forms of professional treatment for anxiety, and which one is most appropriate will probably be determined by the severity of the anxiety and the individual. The most commonly used are:
- Counselling – a professional counsellor can help your child to understand their anxiety and develop coping strategies and work through the problem
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – CBT is a more in-depth form of talking therapy and, similar to counselling, is focused on managing anxiety and altering thought patterns
- Medication – medication tends to be used as a last resort with children and only used when other avenues have been exhausted and even then is only usually prescribed by a child psychologist or paediatrician
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We hope this article helped address any concerns you may have about your child’s anxiety. We will always make ourselves available to help parents, provide guidance and put you in contact with the appropriate professionals. For more information, please call us on +66 2888 3337 or contact us directly via our website.