As many as one in six young people experience anxiety during their childhood.
In this blog, London Home Tutors will discuss the key symptoms of this common condition – and what parents can do to help.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is defined as ‘feelings of panic or fear’; and it’s very natural to experience these feelings sometimes, particularly during periods of stress (such as exam season at school!). However, if the ‘stress trigger’ (like an impending test) is removed and the anxiety still remains, this could be a sign of a longer-term problem.
Below we’ve listed some of the signs to look out for. Bear in mind, though, that – as mentioned earlier – some level of anxiety is normal, and try not to project your own worries onto your child. Equally, if your child is suffering from anxiety, it’s not a weakness or a flaw: it’s very common, and it’s something you can handle together over time.
Symptoms of anxiety
Reluctance to engage in certain situations
If your child seems keen to avoid a certain situation – they refuse to go to school, for instance – or finds it difficult to mix with other children, this could be a sign of anxiety.
Extreme clinginess or timidity
If your child is glued to your side or exhibits signs of extreme shyness, this could be a warning sign. However, some children are naturally shy, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are experiencing anxiety; you will need to treat them with care over time and assess how their behaviour changes (and decide whether they are behaving in a way that differs from how they’ve seemed in the past).
If your child finds it very difficult to get to sleep, stay asleep, or has repeated nightmares (several times a week), this could be a symptom of anxiety. Remove mobile phones, tablets, and other barriers to sleep and try and establish a good bedtime routine in order to assess the situation.
Frequently complains of a headache or bellyache
The mental stress of anxiety can manifest itself physically, most commonly through a recurrent stomach or headache. Do bear this in mind if your child repeatedly mentions any of these ailments – the cause may be mental rather than physical.
If your child switches to monosyllables when you ask how they are – grunting or answering simply ‘good’ or ‘fine’, for instance – they may be trying to hide the fact that they’re unhappy. Often children worry that you’ll be worried for them if they aren’t happy and don’t want to burden you; or they want to avoid articulating how they feel because that makes it seem more ‘real’; or perhaps they simply feel that talking won’t help the situation.
Displaying fearful behaviour
Worrying about things, asking if everything is okay, and asking for reassurance can be common in children, but it can also be a sign of various conditions (including OCD, which is becoming more widely recognised as a prevalent form of adolescent anxiety). Often, children suffering from anxiety will worry about getting sick, being hurt, or dying, or that this may happen to someone they love; that objects or the area around them are unclean or full of germs; that objects are not placed exactly as they’d like (they may become fixated on ensuring that items are laid down in a particular way – straight, even, etc.); or that certain things or circumstances are lucky or unlucky.
In extreme cases, these fears can become so great that the child has a panic attack and finds it difficult to breathe.
How to help with symptoms of anxiety
Whilst anxiety is, to a certain extent, normal – indeed, the development of coping mechanisms is vital to a child’s progression – some children are naturally more anxious than others, and support and guidance from a parent can really help them manage this condition to ensure it does not become a barrier to an enjoyable adolescence.
It can be as simple as talking with your child, establishing good routines to help them feel safe, and practising breathing exercises (it’s amazing how helpful breathing deeply can be for children who are experiencing moments of stress). The simple act of giving your child a cuddle or rubbing their back can be very soothing, too. In the next blog, we will cover more specific methods for managing anxiety, so do check back soon!
Please note: this blog has been written with the aim of providing general guidance, and does not constitute personal or medical advice. If you are concerned that your child’s anxiety is not improving, we recommend that you contact your GP without delay.