Childhood anxiety: Tips for parents on signs & coping skills

Learn what anxiety looks like in kids and how to help them

Childhood anxiety or worry. Thoughtful boy sitting outdoors.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines childhood anxiety as not outgrowing fears and worries that are typical in childhood. Another factor of childhood anxiety is when so many fears are present it interferes with school, home and social life.

As a parent, it is important to be aware of possible signs and symptoms of excess anxiety in your child.

Find a provider: Sanford Children’s Behavioral Health

Anxiety signs and symptoms

Physical signs:

  • Frequent complaints of headaches or stomachaches
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Appears restless, fidgety, distracted

Emotional signs:

  • Frequent crying
  • Easily angered or frustrated
  • Constant worrying no matter the situation

Behavioral signs:

  • Withdrawal or avoiding social interaction
  • Constantly seeking approval from parents, teachers or friends
  • Refusing to go to school

Worry vs. anxiety

Anxiety can be a normal part of your child’s growth and development. Some anxiety can be motivating and help your child to avoid danger. At 5-8 years of age it is normal for your child to worry about germs, illness, natural disasters, and school.

Anxiety can also have negative effects. To help determine what is normal and what is not normal, consider if the anxiety is impacting your child’s daily functioning. For example, does the anxiety prevent him or her from participating in daily activities at school? Is it impacting his or her ability to build and maintain relationships? If the answer is yes, be aware of your child’s needs and symptoms. Help your child cope and manage the anxiety.

Helping your child cope

Your goal shouldn’t be to eliminate the anxiety, but to help your child manage it. Use the following strategies to help your child cope with his or her anxiety.

  • Personalize. Label the anxiety and give it a name. Personalizing it makes the anxiety feel less scary and more controllable. Also, have your child draw pictures or write about his or her anxiety.
  • Acknowledge. Your first step should be to acknowledge and respect your child’s feelings. Be encouraging so your child feels he or she can face fears.
  • Model. Show your child how you handle your own anxiety. Don’t avoid your own anxiety or pretend your don’t have any. Instead let your child hear and see you managing it calmly and tolerating it.
  • Talk. Talk through your child’s worries and distress with him or her. How might he or she handle it in the future? Be present and offer support in the tough times.

How do I seek help?

If you think your child needs more support, talk to your primary care provider or pediatrician first. He or she will help to get other services arranged if needed.

You also can visit the Helpline 211 website and find services through the online database or dial 211 to speak to a Helpline professional. Helpline 211 is now offered statewide in South Dakota. So no matter where you live in the state you can get the support your family needs.

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Posted In Behavioral Health, Children's, Parenting

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