- Chronic or ongoing complaining of tummy aches, headaches or feeling sick.
- Loss of appetite.
- Unable to fall asleep at night.
- Reluctant to leave the house or try new things.
- Overly worried or expresses concern about everyday activities you wouldn’t expect them to be worried about.
- Behavioural issues or outburst such as temper tantrums.
- Needs every little detail about upcoming plans or activities well in advance.
- Hypersensitivity to foods, smells, clothes or environments.
- Skin issues/sensitivity.
- Gut or digestive issues.
- Inexplicable illness or very low immunity.
- Low adaptability to different situations/environments.
- Does not like being out of control.
- Does not deal well with being out of routine or surprises.
- Tense body or tightly curled up hands or feet when upset or when falling asleep at night.
- Inexplicable tears.
- Saying they feel sad but they don’t know why.
- Gets visibly upset or wound up about being late or thinking they are late for school, etc.
- Saying they don’t want to do activities they would normally enjoy such as going to birthday parties, etc.
- Appears withdrawn, sullen or quieter than usual or appears worried a lot of the time.
Anxiety is hard to explain, even adults can struggle to identify what it is, when it started and how it affects them. For children, it can be even more confusing because it is hard to explain this abstract phenomenon. It is often easier for children to link it to a physical issue or pain as it is easier to describe, such as having a sore tummy or headaches. It also makes it easier for them to explain why they don’t want to go to school, or to any other activity that may be making them anxious and they don’t know how to explain why.
The physiology of how anxiety manifests in the body and the stress it causes the child can lead to the very real experience of recurring illness that requires them to repeatedly see a doctor, or for the parents to wonder if the child is really sick or not. Outward symptoms such as flare ups of skin irritation or allergies, nausea and vomiting or near-constant cold- or flu-like symptoms can also occur. This is a very real experience of the body and reinforces to the child that something is wrong or that they are not OK.
The above is a list of common presentations I see of children of any age with underlying anxiety, including toddlers. It is not a complete list, nor do all or some of these symptoms mean that your child is necessarily anxious. It is often the cumulative build up of the effects of anxiety that creates these outward signs and behaviours as the child looks for a coping mechanism.
The physiology of how anxiety manifests in the body and the stress it causes the child can lead to the very real experience of recurring illness that requires them to repeatedly see a doctor, or for the parents to wonder if the child is really sick or not.
Children may be experiencing anxiety for a variety of reasons. Often there is a parent that has anxiety, or is prone to feeling anxious. It can also be a reflection of what is going on in the child’s environment: there may be high stress situations at home, financial or emotional stress, that even though the child may not understand the complexities of, they intuitively know something is not right and it impacts them. Especially with young children who still largely rely on nonverbal communication to figure out what is going on – they do not need to be told or even to understand what mum or dad are stressed about, they just know something is not quite right. This is exponentialised by children who have experienced trauma or highly stressful situations such as a family death, accidents, family breakups, illness or abuse.
Lastly, in today’s fast paced society where many people feel highly strung juggling life, and most of us are stressed, our children are simply reflecting their environment. Adults often feel like they are on the treadmill of life, and the lack of connection and peace that we are experiencing is filtering through to our children at a younger and younger age.
If you think your child has anxiety, or many of these signs or symptoms are true of your child, please know that help is available. In my experience, we have largely been able to reduce, if not entirely eliminate, the symptoms and the impact of anxiety on your child’s ability to have a normal and enjoyable life. Children are highly resilient and can thrive and grow with sometimes the smallest changes and a positive approach to helping them when an issue like this is identified. When most parents realise what is going on, we are able to provide positive, long term solutions that help the entire family unit.