“My head hurts. Do I have to go to school?” cries your 8-year-old as he’s trying to get ready for the day. He sluggishly dresses, mopes around “looking” for his shoes and doesn’t want to eat breakfast. The thing is, you know he’s not sick. He’s full of school anxiety, and the thought of going back to the hallways filled with kids and noise intimidates him. Many parents face anxiety on a day-to-day basis, too. It’s what you do with your own anxiety that can help him overcome his. Just remember children are unique, and they each have their own way of expressing and dealing with stress.
SIGNS YOUR CHILD HAS ANXIETY
“As many as one out of every eight children and adolescents may experience clinically significant anxiety,” says Kristin M. Rager, M.D., board certified in pediatrics and adolescent medicine at The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial. “And early recognition is essential,” Rager adds. Your child may worry excessively about many things, such as school and numerous “what if” scenarios. He may show other signs he’s suffering, besides worrying. Rager says symptoms include difficulty sleeping, struggling to get ready for school in the mornings, refusing to go to school, changes in eating patterns, grouchiness, quietness or tearfulness, or complaints of physical symptoms such as headache or stomachache. “Unchecked anxiety can interfere with participation in regular activities, so you definitely want to help before it gets to that point,” adds Rager. In other words, the moment you feel that something’s just not right with your child, ask him what’s going on. While younger kids may not be able to tell you what they’re feeling, older kids may. Simply asking can start a discussion so you can get to the bottom of it.
Sometimes you can pinpoint your child’s fears and address them directly. However, sometimes it’s not so easy. “It’s important to listen to your child’s worries and acknowledge his feelings,” says Rager. “Reaching out to his teachers can be incredibly helpful, as they can give you feedback about how he’s behaving at school,” she adds. Your child’s teacher can also give you information about resources the school may have in place (such as counselors or therapists).
DON’T IGNORE IT
It’s troubling to watch your child deal with daily anxiety. However, don’t let his anxiety get out of control. If it has a significant impact on his daily life — he keeps himself from doing things others of his age do comfortably — it may be time to seek outside help. “Children with daily anxiety can greatly benefit from meeting with a mental health professional to help them feel better as quickly as possible,” says Rager. “Rarely, the pediatrician may prescribe medication, especially if the anxiety is preventing him from attending school.” If your child is anxious, do NOT ignore it. “I always tell patients and families that if anxiety interferes with your ability to do your normal activities, whatever those are, you absolutely have to discuss it with your pediatrician,” says Rager. “Mental health concerns are medical issues, and your pediatrician is the best place to go, just as you would with any other medical issue.”
BOOKS TO HELP KIDS WITH ANXIETY
Don’t Feed the Worry Bug
by Andi Green
Monsters In My Head; 2011
Ages 6 – 11
I Have a Worry
by Tanya Balcke
Ages 3 and older
Please Explain Anxiety to Me! Simple Biology and Solutions for Children and Parents
by Laurie E. Zelinger
Loving Healing Press; 2014
Ages 5 – 8