When Does a Child’s Anxiety Become a Problem?

Is this scenario familiar to you?

Daughter or son asks ‘can you help me with my homework?’

You sit down together and within minutes there are tears and tantrums because your child does not understand something and somehow you are failing to explain it to them. Result: said child storms off to his/her room/you have a row and homework gets left unfinished.

anxiety-children3This is not an uncommon scenario. What has happened here is that this child has let their anxiety about their homework overcome their actual ability to be able to complete the task.

Anxiety is normal and everyone experiences it at various points in their lives. It is not dangerous. In fact it is a mechanism which we have developed in order to help us survive; the ‘fight or flight’ response is a survival tool that helps us to prepare for danger. Of course, we don’t spend our days running away from large animals that might want to eat us, but we may get nervous or anxious before a performance, exam or sports event, for example. A little bit of nerves can help us to prepare and focus. However, if anxiety occurs when there is no real danger or for no apparent reason, then it may be more of an issue.

Most children or young adults will worry about school work, friendships or appearances, but anxiety about these issues and others like it shouldn’t prevent them from going out in public, keeping them from seeing friends or going about normal activities.

How would you recognise anxiety in your own child?

  • Feeling shaky, sick, stomach cramps, dizzy or faint

A study by Vanderbilt University (as reported by New York Times Well) found a link between functional stomach pain (stomach pain that occurred for no apparent medical reason) in children and anxiety disorders in young adulthood.

  • Breathing fast or difficulties catching their breath
  • Palpitations & sweating.

Behaviourally, children suffering from anxiety may lack confidence, especially when trying new things. They may panic or embarrass easily and be a worrier. Lack of concentration and problems with eating or sleeping are common, as are angry outbursts, during which they feel out of control.

What causes the anxiety?

It is difficult to pinpoint an exact cause and it may be down to an individual’s own temperament and personality. They may naturally be a worrier, but it can run in the family too. Experiences and events can also lead to anxiety problems, for example, bereavement or an illness in the family, divorce or family disputes, moving house or schools, or bullying.

What can you do to help?

  • First of all (although easier said than done), try not to let your child’s anxiety and negativity affect you and the rest of the family. Acknowledge the problem and try to get your child to talk openly to you about what their worries are.
  • We know that many of the things that worry our children are short lived, but to them it often feels like a problem that may never go away. It is important to show understanding, perhaps by sharing your own experiences as a child. This way you can show them that you know how they feel, whilst at the same time trying to introduce some perspective.
  • Give your child ways of dealing with a problem, but without actually fixing it for them. As much as you want to you can’t run to your child’s defence every time they need you. Otherwise they will never learn how to handle things on their own.
  • Do you worry openly about things in front of your children? If you lead by example, by showing your child that you can deal with situations in a positive way, this will affect how they view and deal with situations themselves.

I made a terrible blunder with my own daughter the other day. I had been asked to provide a barnyard animal costume for her nativity performance and on the very same day that I ordered one on the internet, she came bounding out of school exclaiming ‘guess what, mummy I’m playing Mary now.’

Instead of reacting by congratulating her and reflecting her excitement I said ‘But I just bought you a sheep costume!’ So I then spent the entire evening trying to convince my daughter that she would not be able to wear the sheep costume whilst playing Mary in the nativity play and that it was ok that I bought it, as I was sure we would use it another year, or for dress up around the house.

My silly over reaction at having paid out money to buy a costume that we no longer required caused my daughter to worry about the fact that her role in the nativity had changed, to the point that she was trying to please me by coming up with a way to do both.

Needless to say, as much as you may try to be positive around your children, there are occasions when you might fail, as I can testify to. But as well as your own actions, there are other ways of instilling positive thinking into your children. There are a multitude of books available that address the issues that affect young children and help them to put things in to perspective. They range from picture books, right through to self-help books for young adults, concentrating on issues like:

  • The benefits of having a positive attitude over a negative one
  • Learning to love yourself the way you are
  • Standing up for what is right
  • Learning to love new things
  • Realising there are people around you who love you
  • Being grateful for what you have
  • Learning from your mistakes and moving on
  • Not letting other people bring you down
  • Finding your passion and embracing it – having goals and dreams

Repeating these messages over and over can only serve to help your child as they come up against challenging situations. However, if you feel that the anxiety your child suffers from requires more help than you can give, then it may be an idea to firstly talk to their school. Many schools now have systems in place to help children who find situations more difficult than others. You can also talk to your GP, if your school is unable to help you. Either way having a neutral person to help your child understand why they feel the way they do and what they can do to overcome it is a positive step in the right direction.

Have you ever had to deal with anxiety issues amongst your own children?

Nicola Young

Nicola Young is a freelance copywriter, with experience in all aspects of commercial writing, including articles, newsletters, press releases and web content. She also writes young adult and children's fiction and regularly blogs about her own family life.

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  1. says

    All kids have anxiety over different life issues to some extent or other. You want the best for your children but there are certain things that you just can’t control. But you can help your child learn to deal with these issues to the best of his ability. Good tips in this post.

  2. says

    My son is wound tighter than a ball, he got it from me and I hate that he did. He is always nervous, totally neurotic and I swear he will explode someday. He is seeing a therapist to learn some skills to relax and cope better but I worry about the poor guy (viscious circle)

  3. says

    This is a great post for both pointing out indicators and things to potentially help! It’s nice that you took the time to write such a careful and informative bunch of info. to help those who are dealing with it (and I think at some level we all deal with it when we have children, at some point).

  4. says

    Hmm, I wonder if this is why my older son struggles with his homework. We have a hard time getting him to understand the concepts and once he finally gets it. The next night is the same issue with the same exact concept. It is very frustrating. I finally had to talk to his teacher about tutoring so that she could spend some one on one time with him.

    • says

      I do think the schools put a lot of pressure on the children to do extra learning. When I was at junior school we never had any homework at all. It is hard for them.

  5. says

    Thanks for the amazing tips, advice! Love the picture! To understand a child we need to get down to there level. Let them be free to express! Thank You

  6. says

    What an amazing article to read …with or without a child. I too suffer anxiety attacks on social and critical predicaments and my palms really get sweaty.The article has helped me understand better way to deal with it.

  7. says

    This is a great post! I am positive my mom could have used this when I was a kid! I’ve battled with pretty severe anxiety my whole life and I know it was hard for her. Thanks for sharing this information for other parents!

  8. says

    Hit the spot. I am thankful that my children grew up without showing any signs of anxiety. I can give my mom a pat on the back for helping me raise my children. Sad to say, it is I who has issues with anxiety, brought about by the death of my father, and a broken marriage. I guess it started when I was in grade school and I feared my classmates who were doing better than me. I pushed myself too hard that it came to a point that going to school scared me. Now, I am still coping and fighting anxiety attacks.

    • says

      Events that happen in our lives can test our resolve and it can be difficult to stay positive as a result.

      You are right that having high expectations of yourself and pushing yourself too hard can lead to anxiety. Learning to let things go can be difficult.

  9. says

    My youngest son has severe anxiety over being left with anyone other than mom and dad, it has been that way since he was an infant which is why we pulled him from daycare, they could not handle it though they did everything they could to help him. We are now homeschooling him because the school will not allow me to volunteer in his classroom so he can attend school. When you have a child that just cries and vomits, they really do not want him in the schools. He is getting better and we do group activities, he does fine as long as I am there. They are little once, our job is to help them the best we can.

    • says

      That must be difficult for your son and yourselves. And it is terrible of the school to turn their back on him. I hope you find some help for him by other means.

  10. says

    This is fantastic info. I worry about anxiety with our little one. She hasn’t shown any signs yet, but these tips will be helpful if she ever does!

  11. says

    These tips to deal with anxiety are incredible… I think we all suffer but never really thought about childhood anxiety. I know that I help deal with mine by crafting, painting, or just creating something in general.

    • says

      Creating something is very satisfying and children love to do that too. It can give a sense of achievement that is really important for self esteem.

  12. says

    Great post. I’m dealing this with my oldest DS7. Your homework scenario is our exactly! We struggle everyday until I decided he could do it before bed after the other kids went to bed. This seems to have calmed his anxiety. When I went to parent teacher interviews I also found out that he is exhibiting signs of anxiety at school too. I’m starting to worry.

  13. Savannah Miller says

    My oldest has anxiety issues. He tends to get real quite and doesn’t want to talk or even move. When I’m there I can help him through it or at least do the talking for him, but I get scared when he is at school and I”m not there to help. I’m going to start helping him to work on how to get through it himself. Its tough though when I see him struggle i just want to step in and do it for him.

    • says

      I would really recommend getting some of the books that I mentioned, as they can help to form a positive mental attitude. Also, as I mentioned, getting help from school. I wish you luck.

  14. says

    I actually know a child who I believe has anxiety and I’m still trying to figure out how to approach the parent about it. The child tells me she gets nervous about going to school, trying new activities, meeting new people, etc and will get stomach aches. I’m going to mention this article to the child’s mother. Thanks for the great information!

  15. says

    Great post, I must praise you for your courage to approach a sensitive topic and for raising awareness on anxiety disorder. I have been diagnosed with it in 2009 after 5 years of struggling to cope with it and understand what’s wrong with me. This is a subject very close to my heart and you’ve written about it wonderfully.


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