It's normal for people to feel anxious at one time or another. You might feel nervous about starting a new job, giving a work presentation, or even flying on an airplane. The nervousness might be full blown panic or just an uneasy feeling, and it's not limited to adults. Kids can also feel normal nervousness about a wide range of things. Usually the nerves are just that — nerves. But if the anxiety is consistent and interfering with daily activities, you might want to look our for subtle signs that your kid is struggling with anxiety.
"We started to see behavioral changes around age two. But she had a new baby brother, I weaned her, there was a lot going on," Joni Edelman, a mother of five, living in California says in an interview. She continues, "We chalked it up to toddler behavior, shyness." Edelman had no reason to believe otherwise. Think about how toddlers act. One minute they're happy, the next they're thrashing mad. Many young kids get nervous in new environments and act shy.
Edelman says her daughter Ella starting to withdraw in social settings. Still thinking it was just shyness, she'd nudge Ella to socialize. Ella pushed back harder.
"I certainly wondered if she was on the Autism spectrum," Edelman continues, "I admit though, I ultimately just thought she was 'hard' and that she'd grow out of it."
Kids struggling with anxiety can be very difficult to diagnose, at least initially. Consider how many kids cling to their parents at preschool drop off and how many kids get the jitters before the first day of school or complain of random tummy aches and headaches. This is all run of the mill kid stuff.
But Edelman wasn't sure. As Edelman tried different exposure techniques she started to notice that her daughter was getting worse in certain situations. For example, she wouldn't speak at all and started using hand gestures instead of speech. Observations like that eventually led Edelman to seek a more specific diagnosis. Ella has been recently diagnosed with a type of anxiety called selective mutism. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) cited that children with selective mutism refuse to talk in environments they're not comfortable in.
Edelman wrote about her experience with selective mutism as editor-in-chief of the publication Ravishly. In the article entitled, "Would Homeschooling Be Better For My Special Needs Child," Edelman said her daughter, "literally cannot engage, even if she wants to. Her voice is lost in the panic."
As Edleman's situation points out some signs of anxiety-based behaviors will be fairly obvious, but others won't be. Here are eight subtle signs your child is struggling with anxiety.
1. Your Child Worries Excessively Everyday
The worry and stress could be over something like a spelling test or the end of the world. It doesn't matter what the actual worry is, it's the fact that a worry is non-stop. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) noted that if an anxiety or worry is persistent, seemingly unreasonable, and has no cause, then it's a sign that your kid is struggling.
2. They Have Aches With No Identifiable Cause
Many adults complain of headaches when they're stressed out. Same with kids. The first day of school or a soccer game may trigger a belly ache. But if your child is complaining every day of a stomach ache or a headache and there doesn't seem to be reason for it, then it might be a red flag. The Anxiety Free Child website noted that recurring stomach aches and headaches are sign your kid is having ongoing
anxiety, even if they're able to be talked down and relaxed through techniques.
3. They Have Trouble Falling Asleep
A child dealing with anxiety might find going to and staying asleep really difficult. According to the Childrens MD website, an anxious child might be afraid they won't be able to fall asleep at all. And if they do fall asleep and wake up in the middle of the night, the child might be worried they won't be able to fall back asleep. Which consequently means the child probably won't.
4. Your Kid Looks Really Tired
If you child seems tired in general and especially in the morning, it might be something to keep a close eye on. The Calm Clinic website noted that anxiety can cause a body's muscles to be tense all day, or the brain, another muscle, to be overworked and tired. They might be having trouble falling asleep from anxiety or they might be exhausted from being stressed and worried all day long.
5. They Are Misbehaving
If you notice your child exhibiting a lot of disruptive behavior it might be because their anxious or embarrassed by their anxiety. According to the Child Mind Institute website a child who is acting aggressive may be simply reacting to their anxiety. Depending on the child's age, they might not be able to effectively say or identify what they're feeling. The oppositional behavior could be as small as clinginess or as dramatic as a full on temper tantrum.
6. They Won't Talk To Anyone But You And A Few Other People
This silence goes beyond shyness. Just like with Edelman's daughter Ella, children who are silent or physically can't speak in social situations might be suffering from the anxiety disorder called selective mutism, according to the Selective Mutism Foundation. The same site said kids might speak normally at home or to specific other people in their lives. But at school, a child with selective mutism might not say a word to anyone including including their own teacher and classmates.
7. They Are Constantly Sad Or Crying
According to the ADAA, about half the people diagnosed with anxiety are also found to have depression. Children often show they're depressed by crying a lot, being in persistent irritable moods, and not eating.
8. They Isolate Themselves
A child might have extreme panic in social situations and might prefer to stay away from them all together. Kids who avoid raising their hands in class or don't speak up might be exhibiting social anxiety and phobia, Dr. Anne Marie Albanao told the Care For Your Mind website. Another reason an anxious child might start backing away from friends or classmates is because they're aware and embarrassed by their anxiety. Kids in class might have picked up on your child's anxiety and have started to make fun of it, causing your child to withdraw.
Navigating anxiety with your child will be a journey. One with uncertainties, questions, and many fears. Edelman says it's important to remember that as a parent, it's not your fault. It's no one's fault. The best you can do for your child is notice the issues and deal with them the best way you can.