Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

15 Things Kids or Teens Say That Could Mean ‘I’m Anxious’ – Where They Come From And How to Respond

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How Can I Tell if My Child is Anxious?

Anxiety can be a shady character and can often appear in ways that don’t look like anxiety. Because of this, it can be difficult to know when your child is anxious. Anxiety has been doing its thing since the beginning of humans, and it’s brilliant at it. What it’s not so great at is announcing its presence in gentle, clear ways that preserve the capacity for any of us to meet it with a strong, steady, ‘Oh, there you are,’ and an even more powerful, ‘It’s okay, I’m safe – you don’t need to be here right now’. 

Anxiety in Children – Why Does Anxiety Happen?

Anxiety is the work of a strong, healthy brain that’s a little overprotective. It comes from a part of the brain called the amygdala, which keeps us safe by getting us ready to fight for our lives or run for it. The amygdala is instinctive, so if it thinks there might be danger, it will act first and think later – and the unfamiliar, the unknown, humiliation, embarrassment, separation from important people, can all count as danger. When the amygadala is triggered, it initiates a surge of neurochemicals to make us stronger, faster, more powerful, and more physically able to deal with a threat. Sometimes, the amygdala can work a little too hard and hit the alarm button too often when it doesn’t need to. It is NOT a broken brain, but a strong, healthy, capable brain that’s working a little too hard and being a little too overprotective.

Back when the threats we humans faced were mostly physical, the most anxious of us probably would have been the most likely to survive. An anxious brain would have made us more alive to any threats, which would given us the survival edge. Now, the dangers we face are less physical threats and more psychological ones. We no longer face the possibility of being dinner for a furry predator, but we do face very real psychological threats such as failure, rejection, exclusion, humiliation, disconnection from the people we care about – and the list goes on. The brain still fires up in response to threat, exactly as it’s mean to, but when the threats are psychological stressors, the fight or flight response doesn’t serve us so well. When there is nothing to fight or flee, there’s nothing to burn the fight or flight neurochemicals that surge through us, so they build up and cause the symptoms of anxiety. 

Anxiety can sound like …

When children are anxious, it can be difficult for them to articulate exactly what’s happening for them. It will be clear that something isn’t quite right, but it might not be as obvious that anxiety is behind it. Here are some of the things kids might say when they’re feeling anxious. Of course, just because they say any of these doesn’t mean anxiety is making the push, but it might. The key is to be open to the possibility, so if it is anxiety that’s breaking their stride, you can come in and provide the support they need to feel safe, secure and ready to take on the world again. If you hear any of these, notice when they happen. If they happen regularly in the same environment, before the same thing, after the same thing, and with other symptoms of anxiety (such as racey heart, sick tummy, avoidance, clammy skin, tension, headache), anxiety might be behind it. The clues will be in the regularity, timing or intensity.

1.  I feel sick, like I’m going to vomit.

During anxiety, anything that isn’t absolutely essential for survival slows down to conserve energy for fight or flight. Blood flow is directed from the abdominal organs to the brain, and digestion slows. This can feel like butterflies or nausea. This is a very normal part of anxiety and completely safe, but it can feel awful. Sometimes it can lead to its own anxiety about vomiting. If this is something you tend to hear before or during similar experiences (such as separation from you or before school), and there doesn’t seem to be any other signs of illness, be open to the possibility that anxiety is behind it. Help your child make sense of what they are feeling by explaining where their nausea is coming from. Here are some words that can help:

That sick feeling is something that happens when your strong, healthy brain thinks there is something it needs to protect you from. It doesn’t mean there is anything unsafe there, but sometimes brains can get a little overprotective. This is called anxiety and it happens to lots of people. Anxiety comes from a part of the brain called the amygdala. It’s kind of like your own fierce warrior, there to protect you. If your amygdala thinks there might be trouble, it gets you ready to fight or flee the danger. Sometimes, your amygdala can be a little overprotective and get you ready for fight or flight even though there’s no need. It does this by surging your body with a special body fuel to make you stronger, faster and more powerful – kind of like a superhero. This is a great thing if there is something you need to get away from, but if there’s nothing to fight or flee, there’s nothing to burn the special body fuel surging through you and it can build up and make you feel sick.

Something else that happens when your amygdala thinks there’s danger is that it sends a message to your body to save energy, in case you need to fight or flee. One of the ways it does this is by slowing down digestion – the process that gets the nutrients out of the food you eat. Don’t worry – this is completely safe, even though it might feel awful.

When you know that sick feeling is from your brain trying to protect you, there’s something very powerful you can do to feel better. It’s strong steady breathing. This sends a message to your amygdala that you’re safe, so it knows to stop surging you with the special body fuel. When this happens, the sick feeling will start to go away.

Strong, steady breathing will neutralise the fight or flight neurochemicals that can cause nausea. The trick is to make sure they practise strong steady breathing when they are calm, because an anxious brain is a busy brain and it will be less able to do anything unfamiliar. One way to practise is with hot cocoa breathing. Ask them to pretend they are holding a delicious cup of hot cocoa. Smell the warm, chocolatey smell for three, hold it for one, then blow it cool for three.

2.  I’m not hungry.

When digestion shuts down to conserve energy for fight or flight, the need to eat gets shut down along with it. This is only temporary and will switch on again when the anxiety eases. (Unless of course you’re offering something that makes their taste buds slam the door in disgust, you know, like anything served on the yellow plate instead of the blue one.)

3.  My tummy hurts.

Anxiety can hit tummies hard. With any pain, it’s always important to make sure there’s nothing else driving the symptoms but when abdominal pain doesn’t have any other physical explanation, it’s possible that anxiety is the culprit. Other clues that anxiety might be driving the pain include the timing (does it happen before or during something that is likely to trigger anxiety), and the presence of other symptoms of anxiety (racey heart, nausea, tense muscles, clammy skin, flushed cheeks, avoidance etc). The brain and gut are intimately connected. What happens in the brain can affect the gut, and vice versa. Anxiety can send signals directly from the brain to the gut, causing tummy trouble. Anxiety can also influence the gastrointestinal tract to move and contract in ways that cause pain. Tummy pain without any identifiable physical cause is so common that it has a name – functional abdominal pain. The pain is very real and can be quite severe. It’s usually around the belly button, but not always. Tummy pain that is driven by anxiety is best dealt with by continuing as usual, and not avoiding whatever might be triggering the anxiety. The brain learns from experience, so avoidance will make avoidance more likely. Similarly, brave behaviour will make a brave response more likely. Avoidance teaches the brain that the only way to stay safe is to avoid. This can shrink their world and lead to bigger problems, particularly when the anxiety is around school or separation from you.

4.  I don’t want to go to school.

Anxiety doesn’t always seem rational, but that’s because it comes from a part of the brain that runs on instinct. During fight or flight, the thinking, rational part of the brain shuts down enough so as not to interrupt the fight or flight response. If the brain thinks survival is on the line, it doesn’t want you to take too much time thinking about what the options are – it just wants to get you safe. This is why school refusal can happen even when there seem to be no other issues with school, friends or teachers. When anxiety switches on, nothing else will matter and all your child will be aware of is that school feels like a big dose of trouble, even if they can’t explain why. Giving them the information about how anxiety works will help them feel safe enough to be brave enough. Again, it’s really important not to let anxiety drive avoidance. It makes so much sense to avoid the places that feel unsafe, but as the adults in their lives we need to believe that they can cope, even when everything in us is wanting to scoop them up and away from whatever is triggering their anxiety. The more they are exposed to brave behaviour – and doing things that feed anxiety is always brave – the more they will learn they can be brave when they need to. 

5.  Anything angry.

The ‘flight’ part of anxiety shows itself as avoidance, but there is also the ‘fight’ part which can show itself as anger or tantrums. During anxiety, the surging of fight or flight neurochemicals energise the body for fight or flight. Sometimes that energy comes out as anger. As well as this, the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for anxiety), is also involved in dealing with big emotions. When the amygdala is highly active, as it is during anxiety, it means other emotions (such as anger) will also be switched to high volume. When kids are under the influence of an anxious brain, their behaviour has nothing to do with wanting to push against the limits. They are often great kids who don’t want to do the wrong thing. It’s not bad behaviour, it’s anxiety. When anxiety is driving behaviour, it’s important to treat the behaviour as anxiety rather than bad behaviour. Any shame kids might feel for their behaviour will only drive their anxiety harder – they want to do the right thing and they don’t want to disappoint you. This isn’t intended to give them a free pass. They still need to know where the limits are, and they still need to feel the edges of those limits but it’s important to do it gently and by giving them the information they need to make better choices. They want to do the right thing, but as with all of us, sometimes that can take a little wisdom and a lot of practice.

6.  ‘I feel really sad and I don’t know why.’ (Or just tears. Lots of tears.)

Again, the same part of the brain that is in charge of anxiety – the amygdala – also controls big emotions. When anxiety is high, sadness can be too. It isn’t necessarily a sign that something sad has happened. During anxiety, tears are a sign of a brain on high alert. Just be a strong, steady, loving presence, and know that the sadness will pass when the anxiety does. Let the tears come if they need to, and when things settle, explain how sadness and anxiety can happen together. Research has found that crying can be healing when people have emotional support, and if their tears led to a new wisdom about whatever it was that caused them to cry in the first place. 

7.  ‘But what if …. What if … What if.

Anxiety is the sign of a brain that is being hauled into the future. The what-ifs are an attempt by an anxious brain to stay safe by turning as many unknowns into knowns as they can. Help them to find their own scaffold between their anxious thoughts and a brave response by asking them what they think will happen. This will activate the pre-frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that is more rational, considered, and able to calm big emotions. During anxiety, the activity in the pre-frontal cortex decreases, making it more difficult for it to influence the instinctive, emotional amygdala. You might need to prompt them by asking them to reflect on what has happened in similar situations in the past – either it’s never happened before, or if it has, they got through it. Recent research has found that the ability to inhibit worrying thoughts depends on an important chemical in the brain called GABA. One of the best ways to increase GABA is with regular exercise. 

8.  I need to pee … again.

The fight or flight neurochemicals can cause the need to pee. We know it happens, but it’s not clear why. One theory is that during anxiety, the central nervous system is geared to be more sensitive, so it takes less to activate the emptying of the bladder. Another theory is that during anxiety, muscles tighten and one of these may be the bladder, causing the feeling of a full bladder and the need to empty it. If this is a common symptom for your child, it can create an anxiety in itself by feeding into the worry that there won’t be the opportunity to go to the toilet if they need to. Again, explain to them how anxiety can cause this. Also let them know that when they manage the anxiety, the urge to pee will stop showing up with a grand ‘ta-da’ at the worst times.

9.  I can’t sleep.

An anxious brain can get busy at any time, but its favourite time to play is when there isn’t much else going on. At bedtime, there’s nothing else to distract from anxious thoughts. Try a mindful meditation to give your child something to focus on other than their anxious thoughts. (Try Smiling Mind which is a free app, backed by loads of ongoing research.) Another way to help anxious kiddos find calm at bedtime is to give them a job to do. Ask them to put a soft toy animal next to them so they’re snuggled against it. The idea is for them to concentrate on being still and gentle enough so as not to wake their furry friend. Ask them to concentrate on their breathing and their body while they do this. This is a form of mindfulness that will help to relax their mind and body.

10.  My legs hurt. My arms hurt.

During anxiety, fuel is sent to the muscles so they can fight or flee. This can make arms and legs feel tight, wobbly or achey. Explain how anxiety can cause this so they can understand that the pain is not a sign of a bigger problem. Often with anxiety, kids might not realise they’re tensing until they feel what ‘relaxed’ feels like. To help them manage their ache or tension, guide them through a progressive muscle relaxation. Starting from their feet ask them to tighten them for a few seconds, then relax. Slowly work up through the rest of the body, muscle by muscle, tensing then relaxing. This will give them a sense of what it’s like to feel relaxed … which will feel lovely.

11.  But I don’t want to sit still.

Anxiety feels flighty. The fight or flight neurochemicals that surge the body during anxiety are there to get the body ready for action. When there is no need to fight or flight, there is nothing to burn off the neurochemicals that are driving your child to wriggle or squirm. When this happens, encourage your child to move – walk, run on the spot, go up and down the stairs. Let them know this will help them be the boss of their (very excellent) brain, which will help them be the boss of their restless body. When the neurochemicals start to disappear, so will the wriggles.

12.  But I can’t do it!

 Anxiety can drive perfectionism. Anxiety comes from a brain that thinks there might be trouble – and humiliation, failure – or anything that might come from making a mistake counts as trouble. The key is to provide opportunities for your child to learn they can fail, fall or stumble – and still be okay. When they don’t do as well as they expected, make it about what they’ve learned from the experience (and there will be great learnings they can be applauded for), rather than focusing on the loss. It’s about nurturing their mindset towards recognising the opportunities, lessons or growth, rather than the losses. Also, be mindful of how you deal with your own failures. Are you able to laugh off your mistakes or failures? Can you extract the wisdom without dwelling on the loss? Kids will always learn what they see more deeply than what they are told.

13.  I want to stay with you.

There is nothing wrong with your kiddos wanting to stay close, but it becomes a problem when it starts causing problems. Separation anxiety is driven by a fear that something might happen to you while you are away from them. The fear of leaving you will be real, but it will also be temporary. Their anxiety will ease as soon as they have the opportunity to realise you aren’t there and that they are still okay so the sooner this can happen, the sooner they can find calm. Their distress on separation from you might keep happening for a while, and although this is distressing for both of you (I’ve been there), that distress comes from the emotional memory of the actual point separation. Our emotional memories are powerful, and they are triggered automatically and instantly. If drop-offs are distressing, these memories will be powerful and easily activated whenever they are in the same situation. The good news is that the brain learns from experience, so the more experience they have with finding calm after saying goodbye, the quicker they’ll learn that they’ll soon feel okay. This is why it’s so important not to drag out a tough goodbye, and I know how tough they can be (and I’ve also dragged them out – we’re only human and it’s going to happen). When they become upset, let them know that you understand how difficult it can be. It’s important that they feel validated. Then, give them a cuddle and then let the goodbye be quick and confident. If you hesitate, they’ll hesitate too. Similarly, if you believe they’ll be okay, they’ll be more likely to believe it too. Their brain is telling them they aren’t safe – they need ‘borrow’ your calm and your belief that they can cope and do brave, hard things. 

14.  I’m tired.

Anxiety can keep kids awake at night with intrusive thoughts, and the physiology of anxiety can be exhausting. Putting themselves out there when everything in them is telling them to retreat is tiring – and brave. Mindfulness will help strengthen them against anxiety and the physical consequences that come with it. Mindfulness lowers activity in the amygdala (the initiator of anxiety) and increases activity in the pre-frontal cortex (the ‘calm down, we’ve got this’ part of the brain).

15.  Nobody wants to play with me.

This might be a sign of an issue in the playground, but it can also be a sign of an anxious child who is holding back. Kids with anxiety will often hold back from including themselves in the playground, at least until they feel safe with a group. When it isn’t clear whether or not they’ll be accepted (however kind the other kids are), anxious kids will more likely wait until they’re asked, because any threat of being misunderstood or rejected will feel too big. Importantly though, kids who are anxious are often very well-liked by their peers. Their sensitivity, empathy and emotional intelligence makes them pretty great friends to have – and once they’ve connected with them, other kids know it too. All those other kids need is the opportunity to know them.

And finally …

Children and teens will always know when something isn’t right inside them, but sometimes it can be hard to find the words. As the adults in their lives who love them, the feelings of helplessness when we see them struggling can be seismic. When we can understand what’s happening, we can start to give them the safety and comfort of helping them to make sense of what they are experiencing. By doing this, we can steady the ground beneath them so they can feel safe enough and brave enough to keep exploring their world, influencing it, and establishing their very important place in it.


A Book for Kids About Anxiety …

‘Hey Warrior’ is the book I’ve written for children to help them understand anxiety and to find their ‘brave’. It explains why anxiety feels the way it does, and it will teach them how they can ‘be the boss of their brains’ during anxiety, to feel calm. It’s not always enough to tell kids what to do – they need to understand why it works. Hey Warrior does this, giving explanations in a fun, simple, way that helps things make sense in a, ‘Oh so that’s how that works!’ kind of way, alongside gorgeous illustrations. (See here for the trailer.)

 


 

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126 Comments

Maria

while i can see what everyone is trying to achieve here, none of this was available 60 years ago when i was a child and even less for my now deceased aunt 80 years ago. Based on her symptoms she had anxiety, personality disorders and paranoia, none of which received any treatment as a child, as an adult she got shock treatment which probably made it all worse. my point is, many of us probably had these issues as kids but we survived, some better than others. i often wonder if we intervene too much. School is a much more pleasant place now than what i experienced, with the strap a daily threat for misbehaviour. are we sometimes pandering to issues that get too much attention? the workplace is not interested in your ‘anxiety’ issues, even when they are genuine. should we be teaching resilience from an early age instead of giving kids an ‘out’? I can now see I was a anxious child, but i really believe my parents were overprotective which made it worse. Despite the helicopter parenting,instead of pandering to my anxiety i was encouraged to stand up for myself, suck it up, and stop worrying about what other people said or thought. anyway, a few 60 year old thoughts.

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Karen Young

Maria none of these comments or the article are about pandering or being overprotective, and they certainly aren’t about undermining the nurturing of resilience in children. In fact, it’s all about resilience. The first step in knowing how to manage something is understanding what you’re dealing with. When we understand that, we can empower children to manage their symptoms in a way that will make anxiety less intrusive, and give them what they need to move forward into the world with strength and courage – that’s resilience. I wonder if it would have been more helpful if less people in your life told you to ‘suck it up’, and more people told you how to manage it. Of course the information wasn’t available back than, but it is now, so let’s use it to empower our children and to nurture their resilience, rather than to ignore the reality that when anxiety is misunderstood, ignored, or minimised, it smothers the potential in too many kids and too many adults.

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Ashley

Where was this when I needed it 24 years ago? As a child, I experienced most of this list. My pediatrician told my mom it was just nerves and my parents, neither of which ever had anxiety simply punished me for doing avoidance behaviors. I’m still dealing with anxiety at 34 years old, but i learned to cope on my own and the anxiety got better after a few years.

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Nicole

In the Summer of 2017 my son sat me down and told me that sometimes he feels like he just doesn’t want to be here – meaning “alive”. I thank god every day that he felt comfortable enough with me to actually tell me. We immediately got him into therapy and fortunately they have a fabulous rapport. In September, with the start of the school year, he began feeling sick when I dropped him off at school. I’d get text that read “Mom, my heart is racing; I think I’m having a heart attack.” Of course, I told him to get to the nurse ASAP. They checked his heart rate – normal – but he couldn’t shake the racing heart feeling. Then it was stomach issues. His grades started plummeting and he dropped AP History and moved down a level…didn’t help. He is currently earning a D in regular history – a class in which he always received an A. I emailed his counselor and all of his teachers and told them everything, hoping they’d just offer him a little compassion and support if they noticed he seemed a little off. Some of his teachers have been wonderful, some, including his counselor have been anything but…his counselor hasn’t even called him down once since my first email just to check in. He is currently suffering panic attacks in certain classes. I spoke to his therapist and we just had our first appointment this past Tuesday. She diagnosed him with mild depression, anxiety and panic disorder and prescribed Zoloft. She feels a combination of medication and therapy will help…she feels we need to get him to feel “normal” for lack of a better word so he and his therapist can work on what may trigger his anxiety and develop coping strategies. I emailed his teachers and School counselor again to keep them in the loop and so they understand that if he asks to go to the bathroom he may need to get out of his current environment for a few minutes in an attempt to talk himself down. Again, a few teachers responded with support but nothing from his counselor. Frustrating to say the least.
However, it comforts me to know that he openly talks to me about how he is feeling and even says, “It feels better just telling you and you just listen or remind me that I’m okay; I’m safe.” I guess my point here is to let people know that listening to your child, really listening, and getting as much support as possible – I know it can be expensive and time consuming – seeems to help, at least a little. My hope is that he feels a little better each and every day. My heart aches for him and all children suffering with anxiety. It’s real and I’m glad people our society is finally talking about it. My thoughts are with all of you. I’m hopeful that all of our children will find relief.

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Nicole

The “she” I was referring to is his child psychiatrist – I forgot to add that to my post. She will monitor his meds and his therapist provides the counseling. I guess my mind was working faster than my hands.

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Rachel

I am sorry to hear of your son’s struggles. Have you tried increasing time in nature and physical activity? It is often very therapeutic and will also lead you to positive friendships for your son and you. More dramatically of course, you could change schools or homeschool, but I know these options are not open to everyone. Best wishes.

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Elizabeth

Nicole, how is your little man now? (I know, not so little, but still your baby nonetheless!) Is he adjusting well with Zoloft and therapy? What sort of tools has the therapist given him to work with so that he is empowered to face his days? <3

I have kids who have ADD, ADHD, and anxiety. We've tried what you have, but I feel there is more I can and ought to do. Thanks in advance for your input!

Elizabeth

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Jen

Nicole, what you are working through with your son is almost exactly what I went/am going through with my daughter right down to the brand of medication. So many of these symptoms listed in the article are verbatim what she went through and sometimes still goes through. My daughter went through therapy which didn’t seem to help at all (this was prior to medication). She I’d doing so much better in school. I’m so glad we have such a great, open communication between us like you do with your son. God bless and hope he does well on the medication.

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Michelle

Great job Mom!! Keep it up. It’s really hard being a parent these days. I can imagine how time consuming this all can be. But, you are wonderful for being a loving/understanding mom!

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Kassie

My daughter (4th grader) has absolutely every one of these symptoms. She has been having a really y hard time in her math class with her teacher. Do you think that a child psychologist woukd help. It’s really close to the end of the school year so so I woukd hate to take her out. Thanks so much for posting this article.

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Karen Young

Kassie if the symptoms seem more isolated to a particular environment, such as math class, it’s important to see if there is something happening there that might be contributing to her anxiety. Is there something about the class? The teacher? The content? Of course it may be none of these, but it’s worth investigating. A therapist can help her to develop strategies to manage her anxiety, but it’s important that you also work alongside the psychologist. A therapist will only have your daughter for a short while each week, so it will fall to you to coninue supporting her and help her to learn these strategies. You will find plenty of ways to do this on this link https://www.heysigmund.com/?s=anxiety+children

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Jean Gauden

My 8 yr old grandson had a sudden hate for school. I asked just simple questions ” if you could change something, what would it be” and he responded openly with all his anxiety problems. He found teacher intimidating
Unfortunately it continued until his move into the next class.
Just a listening understanding ear helped. Plus a word to the Head.

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Maria

My 7 year old son has never slept well, but over the last 14 months it’s been awful. Approaching bed time he will get a bad stomach, very twitchy legs, cold and will tell me repeatedly that he won’t be able to sleep. He is a funny, loving boy but has sad and depressing thoughts at times, mostly at night. It can take him up to four hours to eventually go off and we have tried everything. He is on the waiting list for sleep studies but we’ve been waiting six months! A lady came and devised a plan which has consequently put the sleep time even later! He has started now to talk about school negatively and he is getting in trouble and being sent out with red cards. He is so tired and I’m worried about him.

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C

Because of the way my anxiety was (or wasnt) dealt with when I was a child I still have difficulty to this day. Believe it or not this article has helped me now as an adult! Thank you.😆

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Jackie

Very useful article. I recognise these symptoms in my 4 year son due to recent incident at school. We are re assuring him and encouraging him ourselves and getting support from the teaching staff and dinner lady. He had a panic attack when felt something was stuck in his throat after lunch in the playground. He was very upset and had a temperature. School informed us and also called for an ambulance as a precaution to take him to hospital. It was viral tonsillitis, tonsils had swollen but not infected. Since this happened he’s not wanting to go to school, feeling sick not wanting to eat lunch of fear of it happens again, tearful as I drop him off in the morning. He’s started to make some progress and eaten some of his lunch today but I know it will take time to regain his confidence.

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Kim

My GOSH!!!
After 12 years of heartache and asking ‘why me?’, I think I have just discovered the problem with my daughter!!! Is anxiety hereditary? (as her dad suffers from severe anxiety)
The problem I have is that she REFUSES point blank to get any help from a counselor or phsychologist and REFUSES to even take homeopathic meds to maybe help her with her moods. She won’t even take vitamins or even let me take my herbal stress tablets (to help me to cope with her moods). She says that nothing and no one is going to change her and that she doesn’t need any help. I feel like I am completely exhaused and beyond dealing with her constant negativity and instant, outrageous mood swings. She has been like this her whole life… What on earth can I do to fix it? I’m at the point of even wanting to sneak medication into her food and hide it from her just to try and help 🙁 Please help me

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Karen Young

Anxiety does seem to run in families, but it’s likely this is a little about genes and a little about environment. It’s important to keep in mind that genes aren’t destiny – anxiety can be managed. Anxiety might be passed down but often so are some extraordinary qualities – people with anxiety tend to be emotionally intelligent, brave, in tune with what’s happening around them, open-hearted, intelligent and very capable at whatever they put their minds too.

At 12, your daughter is also entering adolescence, so this will also factor in to her behaviour. You might see her negativity or mood swings getting worse for a while. She is at the age where she is exploring her independence and who she is going to be. It’s her job to push against you. This doesn’t mean she can disrespect you, and it’s important to let her know that’s unacceptable, but it’s likely that in relation to her decisions about the things that affect her, the more you push, the harder she’ll push back. Let her know that you’re there for her if she wants your support, but otherwise if you can and if it’s safe to, let her have some room to make her own decisions. She will be more likely to come to you for support if she feels like it’s her decision, and not something you’re ‘making her do’. This can be incredibly frustrating as a parent – I get it! – but if you can yield a little, it’s more likely that she will stop pushing to hold her line, and that’s when you can have more influence.

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Ruth

Anxiety is hereditary. I have it and so do my 4 kids. I researched about it a lot and I’d definitely hereditary.

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Karen Young

Anxiety is likely to be a little bit nurture and a little bit nature. The most important thing to remember is that genes aren’t destiny. Anxiety can definitely be managed. Just because it is in your genes, doesn’t mean it will always be intrusive.

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Nirmala

Try Reiki. I had similar issue with my kid, my husband has lot of anxiety. I had my son’s do first degree Reiki, it helps. On somebody’s suggestion, I tried a 21 day prayer and affirmation, repeating thrice that ‘my child is calm, patient etc etc’ and giving him my whole-hearted blessing for his well-being. Worked like magic! Thoughts travel to our loved ones, so instead of expecting problems, you change your thoughts about all the good things that can happen.

“The power of your subconscious mind” by Dr. Joseph Murphy is a great read!

Thanks for the wonderful article Karen. I wish I had come across it earlier, when the kids were younger.

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Paulette Smith

Thank you for sharing your story. My 28 year old, son has been going through the exact samething. He has a record playing in his head full of negative self talk. His anxiety and depression started five years ago, but it has intesified this past year. He won’t take any medication and he does not think therapy will help. Meanwhile, he lives in the past mentally, he does not see a future, and he can’t sleep. I have tried everything. I am seeking help for him!

The information provided on anxiety is very helpful.

I hope you and your daughter find the path forward successfully.

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Constance

Thank you for your interesting and enlightening article! The solution I found, albeit twenty years ago, was The Option Institute (Sheffield, MA), which had 3-week immersion (self-development) training program for all ages focused around the theme of “happiness”. I gave my anxious brakes-full-on 18-year-old daughter an option – spend part of her vacation at The Option Institute and thus go to the USA with the family or stay in summer school in France. Guess which she opted for! She was profoundly changed by this excellent program, gaining new perspective on life and meeting others with similar (and mostly worse) problems with anxiety. Now that she knows a path to find “happiness” she is willing to go there when things get rough.

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Tina

Have you tried essential oils? You may be able to diffuse them to assist with the anxiety. I have found in my special education classroom that this has helped some students, not all. Prayers for you and your daughter! I use a roller bottle of Stress Away from Young Living on myself. Works wonders when things get crazy both at home and school.

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Ashley

We have been dealing with this with our oldest daughter, 10, for a year now. Seems to rear its ugly head end of December thru March… we are in the throws of it now… the can’t go to sleep because brain won’t turn off….. we have tried everything. Melotonin at 2.5 mg seems to help her drift off but only if she is not too heightened…. and the clingliness..we will get through this.. its just draining on everyone. I feel for her the most.

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Mark

Try increasing sunlight exposure on bare skin to increase vitamin D and make sure she has enough vitamin D in her diet. Look into calming herbs, especially products made for children, such as Happy Camper by Natural Balance. CBD oil at a low dosage may also help.

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Natalie

Hi my you year old has child anxiety and ADHD, I have found some really good ways to help her sleep better, on u Tube they have loads of different types of meditation and hypnosis music and stories. My daughter loves them and they do help.

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Debbie

Hi you may find it helps to do a small amount of exercise before bed- running, trampolining or some yoga-like stretching – they can start to learn the breathing techniques. You can also try an app called ‘Calm’. It has sleep stories that really help! Good luck.

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Esther Tarkieltaub

Thank you for an excellent article. As a Social Thinking provider, working with parents and children who suffer from anxiety I found this article most useful.

Catching anxious children at an early age is crucial. I am working with a girl who is able to identify what triggers her anxiety. We have developed techniques to help her calm down. We call it her anxiety tool box. She decides which tool to use in a variety of situations.

The issue of anxiety comes up in my social skills groups and as a group we strategize and talk about the whys and what practical steps we can take to ease the anxiety “monster” as one child names it in our head.

Looking forward to receiving your posts.

Esther Tarkieltaub,LBS1 Social ThinkingR Provider
etlearningconnections@gmail.com

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Nadia avalos

How I wished to have learned about this earlier. My daughter is depressed has adhd and has always had anxiety issues that we overlooked for years. She is now 17 and I feel like the worst mom. I just want to help her because she is my everything. Reading the signs was her for years and my husband and I never dealt with it as anxiety. Any recommendations would help!

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Scott Milne

Beautifully written, thanks. There are two other things that are missing. Sometimes anxiety can be based on something that needs to be dealt with, this is why it is important to allow a safe place for a child to talk about what is causing their concerns. This means listening and trying not to react too quickly to anything that is said, this is importantly because the child may be testing to see if they can tell you something that they may feel uncomfortable about. If you react too quickly they may stop talking. By listening carefully they will feel heard, and if the anxiety is based on those issues identified in the article then the approaches identified will be very valuable. It will also show that you are a safe listener and open the door for any issues of concern in the future to be raised. If there is a concern that you can deal with like bullying, abuse, unable to hear or see properly, or some other issue, then that can be identified and support provided. The other potential is that in some cases anxiety can be neurological, it may be caused by epilepsy or Tourette Syndrome or a wide range of other medical issues. Again by listening carefully and taking notice of what is happening, other signs of concern could be identified and early assistance found.

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Sarah s

Recently we been having this problem.
But I understand what’s caused it I just don’t know what I can do to help. Recently my Nephews/niece parents have split Eldest being 14, 13 and 8
We the 8 year old is just very confused at moment and 13 year has strong head and able to express her feelings when given time to listen to.

Well our problem is the 14 year old has turned so angry and aggressive that he will not speak about his emotion
Won’t lean on or accept help, but he knows we there for him. It’s just when he picks he moments to let something off his chest his lashing out with words at anyone or anything that in front of him.
He has so much question but doesn’t and knows he don’t get the answers he deserved from the one parent.
He turned into the dark side if I can say it like that he speaks to people who think dark thoughts and listens to dark music.
We finding it difficult to prevent this from happening as we get such an aggressive argument.
He feels like he can’t trust anyone do he spends time on his own, we given him opportunities to take new activities up to focus that energy. But still nothing seems to be working. He not eating/sleeping properly. Says he had high blood pressure, he sick, he feels like he can’t breathe so then leaves from school.

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Karen Young

Whenever you can, let your nephew talk about what has happened. Let him speak about his angry feelings, even if you don’t agree with the way he sees things. When he speak, try to let him know that you understand his feelings of anger, and that he has the right to feel however he feels. The issue isn’t the feeling, but what he is doing with them. If he feels as though he isn’t able to release the pressure valve a little, it will build up and more likely turn into an explosion. If he has been through something significant, it may take time to adjust and in that time he will experience many emotions. The best thing for him is to speak freely about what he is feeling. It’s important if he does this that you don’t feel the need to change his mind or ‘fix’ him. This will happen when he is ready and when he works through whatever feelings he is feeling. If you can, it would be a good idea to give him the opportunity to speak to a counsellor or therapist. This might make it easier for him to speak freely about what he is feeling and to learn strategies to manage his anger without shutting it down.

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Nicola

This is so amazingly helpful I have a very anxious 7 year old and as a parent it’s been heartbreaking trying to figure out the best way to approach it. Thank you this is fantastic!

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Terri

A very helpful article. My 10 year old son suffers from general and separation anxiety along with ADHD. He was diagnosed at 7 years old. He does struggle from day to day at school and some days are better than others. He has to have his day structured or it all goes to pot. Always make the school aware for their support too. I was told it was because he was very premature and had a very low birth weight?

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Karen Young

It’s not clear exactly what causes anxiety, but it’s likely to be a mix of genes and environment. (One thing is for certain – parents DON’T cause anxiety.) There are many kids who were born with a low birth weight who don’t have anxiety, and plenty of kids who were born at full term, with an average birth weight who do have anxiety.

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Polly C

Thank you for this excellent article. It’s nice to hear some positive phrases when the word anxiety is being used!! My 10 year old daughter was in hospital last week with ‘Globus’ which is a symptom caused by excessive Adrenalin due to stress. We think the main cause has been bullying. She has been given melatonin but i’m Concerned about using it at this age with puberty round the corner, so trying rescue remedy instead. Finding a new school is our main concern at the moment, and realising these things take time to recover from. Wishing all parents dealing with this lots of love as it’s the toughest thing to cope with, and being on my own with twins makes it difficult because I have to ensure her sister isn’t being too affected by the situation as well!

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Linda

This hits home on some many points with my 12 year old son. Thank you for this article and appreciate reading the comments, there are so many I can relate to. This article explains it all so well. I would love to read about depression in kids as well I’ve been told that anxiety and depression often go together.

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Sandy

My daughter is 18 years of age and i feel i have failed her as a mother, she has had outrages since she was 9 years of age, i was told her dad has border line persinality disorder. I have dealt with anxiety over the years but i guess i am the more like a person whom closes up when i become anxious, my daughter on the other hand can be sweet and nice one minute then completely disructive with her mouth ( negativity, putdowns, anger etc etc). Tried to get her help years ago but she was going through her early teens so not the best time. The other nigbt she admitted to ne after being in uncontrollable tears that she needs to see someone but who????? I am afraid if i take ger to gp again it will be a waste of time….. what can i give her to try and calm her to stop such negative, uncontrol.anger that comes out of ger mouth…… please help

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Grace V

My 9 year old grandson suffers from anxiety and also has sensory processing disorder. Thank you for describing the effects on the brain. It helps me better understand so I may be able to know if he is more anxious, which he is currently going through these episodes now. I’m interested in any suggestions as he is not cooperative in therapy. He has a very difficult time with any kind of change, even if his bedroom is changed around. He is also having a hard time with math but I will be asking the school for more services since he already has a plan in school.

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Claire

Very interested in this. My three year old is dealing with anxiety & a lot of these symptoms fit with him but I thought it was something that every toddler went through & I just had to deal with it. Having said that, his twin never really has!! Would the book mentioned be apprpriate, I’m guessing not or could someone suggest something else for him?

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Emma b

Hi my son has mental health issues and is often violent to me and my daughter..he often deregulated and can change at any moment. He’s only 7 but spits at my daughter sweats and at worst hits and kicks . My daughter gas experienced high levels of real trauma and goes to a small school with her brother.. other girls ask questions and she has been bullied and has beco me a victim of it all. She’s been off school eith phschomatic pains recently gor 3..weeks. school want me to get her back buy she’s very scared. I’m tempted to get her string before she goes back..could you offer any advice..school have suggested her changing schools as she then doesntg have to witness her brothers outbursts ..x

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Karen Young

It sounds as though it isn’t working for your daughter to be at the same school as her brother, and that the effects of them being at the same school together are showing. If the school has given you this advice, I would trust that. It makes a lot of sense.

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Samantha Y

What a great article, practical advice for parents and carers. My twin 8yr old girls have both suffered with anxiety in different ways, one recently appears to have overcome all her anxieties which where due it a serious incident, blossoming again I front of our eyes. The other is starting to overcome her fears by us setting up situations for her to try new things like sledging, water slides etc. She would never go on but talking through how anxiety was affecting her and helping her understand how her body was reacting gave her the opertunity to learn how to cope and overcome.

I read a lot of your articles as I work is social work and directly with children and young people. I completely agree that avoidance will only perpetuate anxiety, our girls are doing great as we are constantly responding to their emotional needs and look for ways to help them overcome their fears and anxiety.

I will be ordering the Warrior book, I’m sure our girls will benefit from it and it will help some of the children I work with

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Mary L

My son has anxiety issues and I watch him for signals and I’ve figured out where to “nip it” before it spirals out of control. He says he doesn’t want to go to school and even though he says he hates school, he doesn’t give me hard time about going.

It took a long time to find a pattern and I never caught it time before the sleepwalking starts. It’s heartwrenching to watch him sleepwalk, as he’s truly scared until he comes out of it. He goes from being a little spacey, then he becomes snippy with sarcasm, then he becomes mean, then he sleepwalks. I decided at the step where he becomes snippy on the verge of being mean, to give him e mental day off from school. That one day changes everything! He calms down enough to tell me what exactly is bothering him and talk about a solution for it. It’s usually teacher oriented conflicted with what he’s trying to accomplish in his work.

He goes to school the next day feeling refreshed and with a solution in hand to make it easier.

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Sarah

And what are the signs of anxiety in pre-verbal children or children just learning language/words???

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Karen Young

Clinginess may be a sign of anxiety later on, but clinginess in pre-verbal children is very normal and healthy. They are learning about their world and they are learning to trust it. Wanting to stay close to the people they trust makes sense. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this response, and it’s not something that needs to be changed. Many kids will grow out of clinginess, but for some children, it may stay and indicate anxiety.

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Sue

I am a 68yr old woman and through this article I can recognise myself as a child. I am still that child inside my head and it has affected my whole life. Thank you for helping me to understand how to help myself, and help any young ones like my grandchildren that may have the same problem.

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Joanne

My daughter suffers with separation anxiety, she is so scared incase I die, her dad died when she was 3 but she witnessed his death bless her
It’s got to the point now where she won’t go to bed without me, I can’t go to the bathroom without her
Do yo think she would benefit from counselling I feel for her i do but it’s also driving me crazy

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Hey Warrior - A book about anxiety in children.