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Anxiety Symptoms In Children – 10 Things Children Say That Could Mean They Have Anxiety

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As all the children line up to get on the bus to go to school, your kid turns to you and says, “Please, don’t make me go to school, my stomach hurts.” You think to yourself right away, “Oh, no! Not again.” What should be a normal morning routine turns into a tough challenge.

Terror is the first thing you notice on your kid’s faces when you look at them. You want to ease their worry and comfort them. You want to assure them that they have nothing to worry about. But no matter what you say to them, their reaction is, “I don’t want to go to school. Please, don’t make me go. Please!” (1)

And then, only after you “threaten” to forbid them to use their tablet for one week do they grudgingly climb onto the bus. And you feel awful.

Well, if any of this sounds familiar to you, know that you aren’t the only parent who watches their kid struggling with anxiety. Anxiety in kids can make both the child having anxiety and their parents feel helpless. This condition can come from anywhere and for no logical reason. Fortunately, anxiety symptoms in kids are easy to notice!

When it comes to children struggling with anxiety, you need to know that it can be hard for them to express what exactly is happening to them. You’ll know that something is not right, but it might not be evident that this awful condition is the reason behind it. (2)

Here are 10 things children say that could mean they have anxiety. Certainly, just because they might say any of the following things, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have anxiety. But what is important is that you are always open to the possibility.

1. “My belly hurts.”

If your child tends to say this before something which is likely to arouse anxiety and other signs of anxiety are present, such as a racing heart, tense muscles, flushed cheeks, panic attacks, nausea, etc., know that anxiety might be behind it.

2. “I don’t feel well. I feel like I’m going to vomit.”

Nausea is a normal and very common part of anxiety. But, it can feel terrible. So, if this is something your child tends to tell you before going to school or doing something stressful, and there doesn’t appear to be any other symptom of illness, know that their nausea might be coming from their anxiety.

3. “I am not hungry.”

During anxiety, the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events, sends your body a message to slow down so as to save energy when it thinks that there is some kind of danger. So, when the digestive system shuts down to save energy, the need to eat shuts down, too. But, of course, this is just temporary.

4. “I’m sad, and I don’t know why.”       

The amygdala controls strong emotions, too. When your child’s anxiety reaches its peak, sadness can switch to high volume, too. And this is not necessarily an indication that something sad has occurred. It may only mean that their brain is on high alert.

5. “But, what if …?”

If this is what you often hear your kid say, know that the what-ifs are just your child’s anxious brain’s attempt to stay safe and protected by eliminating as many unknown situations and risks as possible.

You can help inhibit their worries by asking them to tell you what they think will happen. This question will cause the pre-frontal cortex (a part of the brain which is more rational) to activate.

6. “I don’t want to go to school.”

Since anxiety comes from a region of the brain which runs on instinct, it does not always appear rational. This means that if the brain thinks there’s some kind of danger, it doesn’t want you to spend a lot of time considering your options – it only wants to get you safe.

That’s why your child may refuse to go to school even when there appear to be no other problems with their school, teachers, or friends.

7. “I can’t sleep.”

Although an anxious brain can keep itself busy 24/7, its favorite time to play is at night – the time when there isn’t anything to distract you from anxiety.

8. “My arms/legs hurt.”

When struggling with anxious thoughts, children might not realize that they are tensing. This can make their legs and arms feel stiff, weak, or achy. You can help relieve their tension by guiding them through muscle relaxation exercises.

9. “I am exhausted.”

An anxious brain can keep children awake at night with constant racing and intrusive thoughts. Dealing with such thoughts when their entire body is telling them to rest is really exhausting and draining. Practicing mindfulness can help them relieve their tiredness.  

10. “I want you to stay with me.”

Of course, there is nothing wrong with your child wanting to stay close to you, but if this always happens before you go to work or wherever, it can turn into a huge problem.

Separation anxiety is caused by a fear that something bad might happen to you while you’re not around them. Fortunately, this fear doesn’t last long. It’s temporary, and as soon as your child realizes that both of you are okay when you aren’t there, their anxiety will ease.

Now, let’s see what causes anxiety in children and how you can help your child if he/she has anxiety.

What Triggers Anxiety In Kids?

Anxiety is one of the most common health conditions children struggle with. Anxious children are often quiet and behave well, which makes it hard for their parents and teachers to notice that they suffer from anxiety. Alternatively, other anxious children can misbehave and be disruptive, being labeled as being a “bad” kid.

Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, both types of children end up not receiving the help they greatly need. When anxiety is left untreated, this can result in depression, substance use, and reduced quality of life. That’s why it’s important for parents to recognize their child has a problem once they begin showing their first symptoms of anxiety and learn how to help them grow out of this health condition.

Various things can make children feel anxious at various ages. However, it’s important to know that it’s normal for children to experience many of these worries while growing up. For instance, it’s normal for young children, and even babies, to feel anxious the first time they’re away from their parents. Most children outgrow the fear of being away from a parent by age 2 to 3 once they get used to being with a babysitter, teacher, or grandparent. However, when children don’t outgrow this fear until they’re 2 or 3 years old, this is called separation anxiety.

Children with separation anxiety may cry and become clingy when their parent is not around. They may say they don’t feel well to go to school or even miss a lot of days of school. They may be afraid of sleeping alone or have a hard time falling asleep. They may also refuse to hang out and play with other children without their parents.

Then, it’s normal for preschool-age kids to feel afraid of insects, blood, needles, animals, heights, storms, fireworks, the dark, or swimming. However, the majority of times, when a child feels scared, their parent can comfort them and help them feel calm and safe again. But when a child develops a phobia about certain things, this is a different story. Children who have a phobia(s) feel more extreme and more intense fear, and they try to avoid the thing they’re afraid of. For instance, a child with a phobia of thunderstorms may refuse to go out when the weather is cloudy or rainy.

Another type of phobia children can have the social phobia, also known as a social anxiety disorder. 

The most common symptoms of a social anxiety disorder include:

  • Constant worry about humiliating or embarrassing yourself
  • Avoidance interacting or hanging out with people out of fear of embarrassment
  • The constant fear of situations where others may judge you negatively
  • Avoidance making eye contact 
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Intense fear of starting conversations 
  • Intense fear of talking with strangers
  • Intense fear during social situations
  • The expectation of the worst possible scenario during a social situation
  • A constant fear that other people will notice you’re suffering from anxiety
  • Fear of symptoms such as trembling, sweating, or blushing that may make you feel embarrassed
  • Fear of situations in which you might be the center of attention
  • Analysis of your flaws and performance in your conversations after talking to someone

Other things can make children become anxious, such as the death of a parent, sibling, or friend, serious health conditions, trauma, violence, or abuse. Kids can also feel anxious before tests and exams, after moving house, or when going to a new school.

Another type of anxiety children can suffer from is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Children with this type of anxiety disorder usually worry about homework, playtime with friends, tests, or making mistakes. They might also worry about riding the school bus, attending birthday parties, loved ones, weather, illness, or the future. Of course, all children can worry about these things, but children with GAD worry about them way more than kids who don’t suffer from this disorder.

Children with GAD have trouble focusing in school since there’s almost always something they worry about. They also have a hard time eating well, having fun, relaxing, or falling asleep.

And last but not least, many children have panic disorder. It’s common for these children to experience sudden anxiety attacks that can lead to intense physical symptoms, like shortness of breath, sweating, trembling, or feeling jittery. Teens experience panic attacks more commonly than young children, and these attacks can occur at any time.

In what follows, we’ve presented the most common symptoms of panic disorder.

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Smothering sensation
  • Racing heart
  • Trembling
  • Chest pain
  • Numb hands
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Chills
  • Nausea

What Are The Most Common Symptoms Of Anxiety In Children?

Children suffering from anxiety usually show the following symptoms:

  • Constantly having negative thoughts or worrying
  • Not eating properly
  • Being clingy
  • Often crying
  • Having trouble falling and/or staying asleep
  • Having a hard time concentrating
  • Avoidance of specific people, situations, or activities
  • Getting irritable or angry fast
  • Often feeling tense
  • Often feeling nausea or complaining of stomach aches or headaches, which don’t stem from other health issues

Is It Normal For An 11-Year-Old To Have Anxiety?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 9 percent of kids aged 3-17 suffer from anxiety disorders.

However, every parent needs to know that some degree of anxiety in young children is normal rather than alarming. For instance, it’s normal for an 11-year-old to worry that they might embarrass or humiliate themselves in front of their friends or in school. It’s normal for them to feel anxious or afraid when encountering a new situation because they need time to get used to it and learn about it. It’s also normal for an 11-year-old to fear kidnappers, burglars, or war.

Now, many of these fears come and go throughout their life. Even if a child doesn’t outgrow their anxiety or fears, their parents have nothing to worry about as long as their anxiety doesn’t interfere with their everyday functioning. However, if the parent can notice the things presented below, they have a solid reason to feel concerned about their child’s mental health and seek professional help:

  • Their child constantly avoids certain people, situations, or activities
  • Their child frequently has panic attacks or complains of headaches or stomach aches
  • Their child’s anxiety is causing them extreme distress and decreasing the quality of their life 

How Can You Help Your Child With Anxiety?

If your child has anxiety, you should first talk to them about their worries and fears. Comfort them, reassure them, and let them know you understand how they feel.

You can also try to explain to your child in simple terms what anxiety is and how it affects our bodies if they’re old enough.

Nevertheless, the most important thing you should do as a parent is to help your child develop healthy coping strategies that will enable them to get a grip on their anxious thoughts and feelings whenever these appear and keep them from overwhelming them. You can do that in the following ways:

  • Make sure your child becomes able to recognize symptoms of anxiety in themselves.
  • Teach your child to practice simple breathing and relaxation techniques, such as breathing in and out for a count of 5.
  • Encourage your child to ask for your help whenever they need it to control their anxiety.
  • Distraction can greatly benefit young children. For instance, if your child is anxious about going to school, play games on the way there, like who can notice the most people wearing glasses.
  • If a big change is coming up, like a house move, let your child know what’s going to happen and why. In this way, you’ll help them prepare for the upcoming new situation.
  • If distressing events make your child feel anxious, such as separation, loss, or bereavement, let them watch movies or read books that will help them better understand their feelings.
  • Encourage your child to write their worries on pieces of paper and put them into a “worry” box. Then you can go through the pieces of paper together and discuss the worries written on them at the end of the day or week.
  • Individual counseling and/or family counseling have also been proven effective in reducing childhood anxiety.

If you can notice that your child’s anxiety persists, is getting worse, or affects their school, relationships, and everyday life, it’s best to get professional help.

Can A Child Grow Out Of Anxiety?

Luckily, a child diagnosed with anxiety can outgrow this disorder if they live in a supportive environment and receive appropriate treatment. Therapies that involve taking anxiolytic medications and cognitive-behavioral therapy or a combination of these therapies have been proven to help reduce symptoms of anxiety in children.