Anxiety disorders are the most common psychological problem in children and adolescents. 1 in 5 primary school children have anxiety according to their parents. Most studies suggest that between 15 and 30 percent of children will experience an anxiety disorder before they are 18. Early intervention in childhood is key, to minimise the impact across the lifetime. Learning the tools in childhood can help them manage anxiety provoking situations in adulthood effectively.
We all are anxious sometimes
Everybody experiences anxiety, adults and children. It is perfectly normal to feel anxious before an exam or on the first day of school. Some children are more carefree than others and may take things in their stride and some children are a bit more nervous and cautious naturally. So it can be difficult to recognise the various degrees. If a child comes to you and says they are anxious, you hope its a natural response to an event and it goes away on its own once they are settled into a new routine or a new school.
I have a pain in my tummy.
Anxiety can and often manifest itself as bodily symptoms such as stomach ache. If a child says they have a pain in their stomach and doesn't want to go to school, this could be a indication of anxiety and not just a stomach ache. Headaches is also a common physical symptom of anxiety.
There are always going to be anxiety provoking situations that are normal for children, for example giving a presentation to the class, or taking a test. It becomes a problem when there is significant distress and it impacts on their ability to function. When a child is significantly distressed or avoiding anxiety provoking situations and is disrupting the child's day to day life, the anxiety has more than likely become a problem and warrants a visit to a professional.
Warning signs are if a child refuses to go to school, does not want to engage in various activities. Avoiding things that other children are happy doing, like going to a birthday party, joining a club or team sports. Avoiding hanging out with friends, difficulty sleeping, irritability
or anxiety related physical symptoms. Not eating lunch at school or not using the toilet at school and not sleeping in their own bed are all indications of anxiety.
What can help
Counselling and therapy can help a child express and work through their fears, recognise when the anxiety is starting and can teach them techniques and tools to help them manage it so they can grow into a more confident and happy child. At home as a parent you can empathise with your child, this normalises what they are experiencing, and they understand they are not alone. Encourage them and support them when they do something that is anxiety provoking for them.