Anxiety is quite common in young children - after all, they’ve got a lot to learn, and a big world to grow up in! And when they’re faced with a new thing, such as attending preschool or moving into a new home, it’s only natural for them to be a bit worried.
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They might get upset, they might never want to leave your side, and they might be more grumpy than usual. Yet, these behaviours are usually only a blip, and as your child gets used to change, they’ll disappear as soon as they appeared!
However, when these worries start interfering with their normal routine, it could be a sign that your child is living with anxiety. We all know just how disruptive anxiety can be to an adult’s life, so it’s something no parent would ever wish their baby to go through.
But identifying anxiety can be tricky. Kids can be good at hiding how they feel, and getting them to open up can feel like drawing blood from a stone! But there are still signs you can pick up on when thinking about how they’ve been acting lately. And some of these important signs can look like this:
Has their appetite changed?
Maybe your child eats less than they did, or maybe they eat a lot more - either one can be a sign that they’re dealing with stress. Both can be a coping mechanism for children who don’t quite know how to talk about their feelings yet. Food is a big part of their life, after all, as they have a lot of growing to do, but it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the way their appetite evolves.
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They’ve often got stomach pains
Does your child often complain that their tummy hurts? Maybe they’re actually being sick more often?
Obviously, this is a very worrying sign and could require medical attention, but it’s also another big sign that your child is feeling overwhelmingly scared on a daily basis.
This is especially true if these stomach pains come on suddenly, such as when you’re about to leave the house to take your child out to preschool or school. Attendance Matters Magazine has also written a wonderful piece on preschool and school attendance, its importance, and how anxiety can negatively impact that. To read more about this, click here.
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They’ve developed a nervous habit
Maybe they bite their nails or fiddle with their hair a lot? Maybe they’ve developed a ‘twitch’ in their face or their hands that they can’t seem to stop doing? Nervous habits are a huge sign that your child is worried, and they’re performing some kind of self-soothing motion to help calm down. Nervous habits range in presentation; Thumb sucking, rocking, making sounds etc.
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Maybe they can’t sleep or concentrate
Not being able to sleep during the night, or not wanting to go for a nap, can be very worrying to you as a parent. If your child doesn’t get enough sleep, they can be sluggish and moody during the day and may fall asleep at other times, such as a preschool or school itself.
And a lack of sleep can lead to low concentration - they could make mistakes when asked to do tasks, or even be unable to listen in the first place. Indeed, you could even notice a ‘spaced out’ look on their face from time to time.
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Other adults or teachers are noticing the signs too
Has someone at preschool come to you mentioning some of the symptoms above? Maybe a babysitter has expressed concern in the past couple of weeks? Maybe even your own parents have noticed that their grandchild isn’t quite their usual self? These are all signs that your child’s anxious behaviours are becoming more frequent. In times like these, it’s best to tackle the problem head-on.
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What to do next
When you notice one or more of the symptoms above, talk to your little one about how they’re feeling. Make sure they feel safe to talk to you, and know that they can always come to you. Anxiety can make us feel like the world is against us, and as we mentioned above, that’s a very big world when you’re only 4 or 5 years old!
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Of course, if you’re really worried about the way your child is feeling, be sure to talk to a doctor about the symptoms you notice. It’s good to eliminate any potential physical cause before tackling an anxiety problem, and it’ll also give you more peace of mind over your child’s health.
If an anxiety disorder is found to be the cause, therapy is often prescribed. Forms of therapy such as CBT are good for treating your child’s anxiety issue, by allowing them to discuss it safely, and also be taught ways to deal with it when they feel the fear come on. This is a proactive approach for teaching your child that they’re safe and sound, and it can help them to grow up without anxiety issues holding them back.
The NHS also provides a detailed description of Anxiety in Children, which can be found by clicking here. This article is a fantastic free resource that will help you learn a bit more about Anxiety as a whole.