A lot of adults don’t realize anxiety can happen to children too. Anxiety is not just being afraid or nervous. Sometimes anxiety is masked as irritability or defiance as a coping mechanism.
What makes it a challenge to identify anxiety in children is that the symptoms of anxiety overlap with the symptoms of ADD/ ADHD. This is because children with anxiety also fidget, have difficulty concentrating and can also be forgetful. Thus, it’s not uncommon for children to be misdiagnosed with ADD/ ADHD when they are actually experiencing anxiety.
Simple acts such as making new friends, taking up new sports, facing an exam and answering a question in class can trigger anxiety. Some children become withdrawn when they are anxious but there are also some who will act out and make harsh statements.
According to a clinical psychologist Dr. Azine Graff, these are some of the common statements made by anxious children that may mean something deeper.
1. “I don’t want to go to bed” may mean they are afraid of sleeping alone.
2. “I hate you” may mean they need your help to make them feel safe or they need a way out of the classroom.
3. “I don’t know” may mean they are unsure of themselves or they don’t want to answer your question.
4. “Don’t leave me” may mean they don’t think they can do it on their own without support.
5. “I am stupid” may mean they are worried about failing if they tried.
6. “I don’t want to do my homework” may mean they are not confident they can complete the task correctly.
7. “Leave me alone” is a defensive phrase. It may mean “I will reject you before you reject me, even though I don’t really want to be apart from you.”
8. “I don’t want to go to Felicia’s birthday party” may mean they are nervous being in a new place or they are afraid that no one wants to be their friend.
After going through these phrases, it’s apparent that a child saying “I’m scared” is not as straightforward as it seems.
It’s common to want to fix problems right away. Before adults can help their child that has anxiety, the adults need to understand why their child is feeling that way.
Parents have to sit down with their child and talk to them about it to figure out what’s bothering them. The phrase “Behaviour is the tip of the iceberg” rings true here so parents have to become sleuths and dive in deeper.
Another reminder for parents is to acknowledge the child’s struggles and challenges, and not to be judgmental. By being genuinely supportive, the child is much more willing to open up and share instead of shutting down more.
If parents are unsure of how to help their child, there’s no shame in getting help from a therapist to help alleviate a child’s anxiety and quality of life. It’ll help the whole family as well.
Parents may feel guilty or feel bad when they fail to help their child on their own but no one is an island.
To read more on anxiety, check out 7 Ways To Help A Child Cope With Anxiety