Is My Child Anxious? A Guide for Parents

As a parent, watching your child struggle with worry or fear can be unsettling. You might wonder if their sensitivity is just a phase, or something more concerning. This internal debate might lead you to seek guidance from your child’s school counsellor or a child psychologist, a mental health professional specialising in helping children manage anxiety and other emotional challenges. 

Is my child anxious? Advice about the signs of anxiety from child psychologists

Is your child anxious?

Many children struggle with anxiety from time to time, but how can you tell if their anxiety is becoming a problem? Here at Kids First Children’s Services, we understand how challenging it can be to navigate your child’s emotional well-being. This guide will explore the signs of childhood anxiety, recent data on the rise in anxious children in Australia, and steps you can take to help your child. 

Signs of Childhood Anxiety by Age Group

Anxiety can manifest differently in children of varying ages. Here’s some common signs to watch for:

Preschoolers (ages 3-5): 

  • Separation anxiety: Your child may be having difficulty being apart from you or other caregivers, even for short periods. 
  • Regressive behaviors: You might have noticed a return to things like bedwetting, thumb-sucking, or clinging behaviours that you thought your child had grown out of. 
  • Tantrums and meltdowns: Frequent outbursts or meltdowns, particularly when your child is place in unfamiliar situations or faced with transitions could be becoming a problem. 
  • Physical complaints: You child might be complaining about frequent stomach aches or headaches that have no apparent medical cause. 
  • Changes in play: Your child might be having difficulty engaging in pretend play or has become overly attached to specific routines or objects.

Primary School Aged Children (ages 6-12):

  • Excessive worry: Your child might constantly worry about schoolwork, friendships, or upcoming events. 
  • Social withdrawal: They may have begun to avoid social interactions, playtime with peers, or extracurricular activities they once enjoyed. 
  • Perfectionism: Your child may have unrealistic expectations for themselves and a tendency to be overly self-critical. 
  • Difficulty concentrating: Your son or daughter might be having trouble focusing in school or completing tasks due to intrusive worries. 
  • Sleep problems: Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing nightmares might be impacting your child.

High Schoolers (ages 13-18):

  • School avoidance: Is your child skipping classes or fearing participation due to anxiety about tests, presentations, or social interactions?
  • Social withdrawal: You may have noticed that your teen is isolating themselves from friends and family, or appearing withdrawn or depressed. 
  • Irritability and anger: Your adolescent may seem easily frustrated, and be lashing out at others, or experiencing mood swings. 
  • Self-consciousness: Is your high schooler demonstrating excessive concern about their appearance, social interactions, or how they are perceived by others? 
  • Physical symptoms: Perhaps your teen is struggling with headaches, stomach aches, nausea, dizziness, or rapid heartbeat in the absence of a physical illness.

Remember: This list is not exhaustive. If you notice a significant change in your child’s behaviour or emotional well-being, it’s important to consult your family doctor or a child psychologist for professional advice. 

Child Psychologists give tips to help parents about the symptoms of child anxiety

How to Help Your Anxious Child

Early intervention is crucial for managing childhood anxiety. Here are some initial steps you can take: 

  • Open Communication:  
    Create a safe space for your child to talk openly about their worries. Listen without judgment and validate their feelings. Let them know it’s okay to feel anxious, but that there are ways to cope. 
  • Normalise Anxiety:  
    Explain that anxiety is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences sometimes. 
  • Healthy Habits:  
    Encourage regular exercise, healthy eating routines, and adequate sleep. Research tells us that these are an excellent first step when trying to manage anxiety symptoms. 
  • Age-Appropriate Support:  
    The way you support your child will vary depending on their age and developmental stage. 
    • Preschoolers: Provide consistent routines, offer reassurance and comfort, and use simple coping mechanisms like deep breathing exercises. 
    • Primary School Aged Children: Encourage open communication, help them identify and challenge negative thoughts, and develop relaxation techniques like mindfulness practices. 
    • High Schoolers: Validate their emotions, offer guidance with navigating social situations, and encourage healthy outlets for stress management, such as exercise or creative hobbies. 
  • Building Resilience: Help your child develop healthy coping mechanisms to manage their anxiety. This could include relaxation techniques, journaling, spending time in nature, or practicing mindfulness exercises. 
  • Seeking Professional Help: If your child’s anxiety is significantly impacting their daily life, don’t hesitate to seek professional help from a child psychologist or therapist. A mental health professional can provide a diagnosis, develop a personalised treatment plan, and equip your child with the tools they need to overcome anxiety. 
Parents play a vital role in teaching their child how to manage their anxiety

The Cool Kids Anxiety Program

Kids First Children’s Services is proud to offer the Cool Kids Anxiety Program, an evidence-based program designed to help children aged 7-12 overcome anxiety. This program utilises cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques to teach children how to: 

  • Identify and challenge negative thoughts:  
    One of the practical skills taught in the Cool Kids program is how to recognise unhelpful thinking patterns that contribute to anxiety and reframe them in a more positive way. 
  • Relax: Cool Kids focuses on helping children to the practice develop healthy coping mechanisms so that they can manage their anxiety symptoms in the moment. 
  • Social skills:  
    One of the major benefits of Cool Kids is that it teaches children how to build confidence and resilience. Through effective communication and social interaction skills, they develop the problem-solving skills they need to become a ‘Cool Kid’. 

The Cool Kids program is a collaborative effort and parents/caregivers play an important role in the therapeutic process. Parents receive their own Cool Kids manual that helps everyone in the family know what to say and do as their anxious child learns to manage their anxiety. 

Taking the Next Step

If you’re concerned about your child’s anxiety, you don’t have to go through this alone. Reach out to Kids First Children’s Services today. Our team of experienced child psychologists can provide a safe and supportive environment where your child can heal and thrive. 

Contact us today on 9938 5419 or click on the button below to learn more about our anxiety treatment programs and schedule a consultation with a child psychologist. 

Please note: This article is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice.

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