Anxiety is a normal feeling. Everyone feels it at times. Anxiety is usually connected to situations that we see as unavoidable or unpredictable. We often have a sense of dread. Physical signs of anxiety can be: heart palpitations, weak muscles, sweating, trembling, tiredness, nausea, stomach aches and headaches. A small amount of anxiety can be positive, as it helps us to motivate ourselves to prepare for a difficult situation or ensure that we are not in danger. However, it is possible for us to feel so much anxiety that it can affect our mood, sleep and appetite and our ability to solve problems and make decisions.
The same can happen with our children. Many young children have fears, like the dark or monsters. Age appropriate fears continue as children develop through various stages of life. Adolescent and teenagers become concerned with school work, what others think, wanting to fit in, becoming more aware of world issues and their future.
As children grow through various life transitions such as, starting school or moving to a different school, addition of a new sibling, making friends, experiencing learning issues, anxiety comes along. Happenings of a traumatic nature like, loss of a family member, parents separation/divorce, illness in the family, abuse in the family, being bullied, can add a great deal of anxiety. However, all fears are normal. It is the difference in intensity that is the issue.
It is difficult for parents to witness their children’s anxiety. A parent may not be sure of what is happening with their child or the degree to which anxiety is affecting him/her. Since parents, naturally, want the best for their children, there is sadness and anxiety for us in seeing them suffering. However, since children do not have the same skills as adults in identifying and coping with their feelings, parents need to be alert to signs of anxiety in their children and be aware that there is help available.
Sometimes it is easier to recognize signs of anxiety in our children when the behaviour is outward signs, like crying, clinging or trembling. It can, however, also, be difficult to recognize anxiety in our children. These could be signs like, being negative, being angry and defiant, worrying a great deal, a change in sleep and/or appetite, memory issues and/or concentration difficulties, withdrawing from friends or family, not wanting to go places.
Generally, a fear that seems out of proportion to the situation, thus, getting in the way or inhibiting a child from taking part in normal activities tells us that the anxiety needs to be followed up. Anxiety may be impacting on the child’s day to day functioning. An anxious child may have difficulty making friends, may not do as well academically as they could, may choose to not take part in doing things they enjoy or, perhaps, cause them to be upset and sad.
Many children change as they grow and seem to leave anxiety behind. However, some will continue to feel anxious as adults. If you think your child might be experiencing significant anxiety, it is important to follow up. There is help available, so that your child can learn to manage anxiety and feel more confident. At Bayridge Family Center, the program includes parents and children. Do not hesitate to call for more information or for an appointment.
Donna Burtis, M.S.W., R.S.W.
Therapist/Counsellor – Children dealing with trauma, depression, anxiety,
ADD/ADHD, and adults dealing with partner abuse and/or childhood sexual abuse