Signs of Anxiety in Children and How Parents Can Help

Signs of Anxiety in Children and How Parents Can Help

What might anxiety look like in kids?

For kids, anxiety might look like a variety of things that you might not even realize are anxiety-related! Each child is different, but the following signs may be related to anxiety:

  • restlessness

  • fatigue

  • trouble concentrating

  • irritability, outbursts

  • muscle tension

  • trouble sleeping

  • stomachaches and digestive issues

  • being clingy to caregivers

  • avoidant of certain situations

How can we help kids handle their anxiety?

  • Resist the urge to let your child avoid scary situations because avoidance perpetuates the anxiety cycle. Instead, help them use coping strategies and gradually increase exposure to the situations that make your child nervous. Make small and manageable goals and work up to bigger brave practices. Praise kids for their efforts in being brave, no matter how small the steps are!

  • Encourage your child to rate their anxiety or fear on a scale to help them understand their feelings, to better understand their anxiety triggers, and to see their progress with using coping strategies. For younger kids, this might be a 1 to 3 scale of “not scared,” “a little scared,” or “really scared,” while for older kids, it might be a 1 to 5 or 1 to 10 scale. Color coding the scales can also be a helpful strategy. You might have the child rate their fear before and after doing a calming coping strategy to see the difference that it made!

  • Reading books about anxiety together with your child can help to normalize and promote emotional awareness and coping skill use. What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (What-to-Do Guides for Kids) by Dawn Huebner is one great example.

  • Teach and practice coping strategies! These tools will help both you and your child to feel better and to build a greater capacity to handle stressful and anxiety-provoking situations.

    • Breathing exercises are a wonderful tool that can be used anywhere. Examples include square breathing, five-finger breathing, and many other great versions! Try out different ones with your kids and see what they like. Remember to practice when they are calm, not just when they are upset or anxious, so that they build the skills and are ready to use them when needed.

    • Visualization or guided imagery exercises can be very calming and help increase mindfulness while decreasing stress and anxiety. A great compilation of guided imagery exercises for children can be found here.

    • Help children to use cognitive restructuring and to be mindful of “thinking traps” (e.g., “what if,” thinking the worst outcome will happen, etc.). Strategies include reminding the child/prompting them to think of ways they’ve been brave in the past and how things have turned out, guiding them to challenge scary thoughts with counter-evidence and facts, and helping them make a plan in case things do not happen as well as they would hope or if something scary were to happen.

  • Model using coping strategies yourself and be mindful of your own anxious responses.

  • If concerns persist or worsen, consider having your child work with a therapist. Contact us at 734-323-4897 or for more information.

Helpful resource:

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By: Emma Nathanson, MA, TLLP