Identifying Anxiety in Children & Teens
How do I know if my child or teen is overly anxious?
A 6 year old throws a fit every night at bedtime.
A 15 year old does great on homework assignments but underperforms on school tests.
A 4 year old suddenly starts “acting out” even becoming aggressive at times.
A 13 year old starts yelling at adults sometimes when they’ve given him instructions.
A 10 year old has been sent home 4 days in the past two weeks from school due to unexplained physical ailments such as a stomach ache and pain.
What do you think of when you read those four brief statements above? What assumptions do you make about those children? Do you assume they are angry?
Anxiety is common in children. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 31% of adolescents ages 13-18 had a diagnosable anxiety disorder. That statistic only reflects teenagers whose anxiety interfers with their daily life enough that they qualify for a diagnosis, but even mild anxiety can be hard to cope with and prevent a child from demonstrating what they know on a test or making new friends. I wasn’t able to find statistics for younger kids, but based on my own experience I would hypothesize that anxiety is just as common in younger children as adolescents.
So, how do you identify anxiety in children and teens? Often times the signs of anxiety go unnoticed, but become more apparent at other times such as in life transitions. For example parents may be more aware of the signs of anxiety when they are trying to help their teen cope with a divorce. Many children don’t have the ability to recognize that they’re anxious and many teenagers don’t want to come out and admit to their parents they’re anxious. Every child is different and every child will express their emotions in a way that is unique to them. Below are a list of some of the ways I have seen anxiety manifest in kids of a variety of ages. Please know that this list is not exhaustive and that just because your kid expresses one of these doesn’t mean anxiety is at the root. I cannot diagnose any child through a blog post and am simply providing information to help you think critically about what your child may be experiencing.
Common Signs of Anxiety in Children & Teens
- Frequent physical complaints such as stomach aches especially if you notice a pattern to the complaints. For instance, I knew a kiddo who was sick every Monday and we eventually identified that they were anxious about attending school
- It’s important to rule out any physical cause of somatic complaints
- Expresses worry frequently
- Ex: “I’ll have a nightmare if I go to sleep”
- Being extra aware of any change in routine. This may include crying when there is a change, throwing a fit or simply repeatedly pointing out the differences. For instance, the child who screams “This is the WRONG way” when you take an alternate route to a place you frequently drive.
- Difficulty sleeping
- They are more capable than they are demonstrating. For example, they are very skilled at a sport or extra curricular activity in practice but in a recital/game
- Scores poorly on tests even when they know the material
- Suddenly forgets a song during a performance they know very well
- This can include “tantrums” in younger kids
- Poor concentration: This might be because they are constantly worrying and thinking either about mistakes they’ve made in the past or things that could go wrong in the future.
- Asking for reassurance-physical presence or with words
- This may look like asking excessive, repeated questions
The good news is that anxiety can be very responsive to treatment. With the right help, you’re child can learn to “face their fears” in a way that feels safe. In fact, sometimes we even turn it into a game.
Counseling for Anxiety
If you are concerned that your child’s anxiety is beginning to impact his or her ability to function or you simply think your son or daughter would be happier if they could live a more worry free life-call (573-328-2288) or e-mail Aspire Counseling today. We provide quality, effective counseling services for individuals and families in the Mid Missouri area. We provide counseling services to both families and individuals of all ages both helping children conquer their anxiety and helping parents cope with the stress of parenting. In fact, our newest therapist, Joni, can work with children as young as preschool age. She is working on her play therapy certification and has a certificate in animal assisted therapy, so she can help your child overcome their anxiety through methods that feel safe and even fun!
It’s hard to live with a child who is often anxious, but healing is possible. New ways of approaching fears are possible. We hope you’ll reach out today and begin the journey to finding greater peace in your family.
Jessica Tappana, LCSW is the founder, director and a therapist at Aspire Counseling in Columbia, MO. She began Aspire Counseling in May 2017 to provide quality, evidence based mental health services to individuals in the Mid Missouri area looking for healing from trauma, grief, anxiety and overwhelming stress. The practice now has 4 therapists and serves all ages from early childhood through retirement. Aspire Counseling is LGBTQ friendly and welcoming to people from all walks of life. Jessica is proud of the care that is taken at Aspire to match each client with a therapist who is uniquely suited to meet that client’s needs based on personality, training, specialty and experience. If you’re interested in beginning your healing journey, you will find a safe space at Aspire Counseling.