My child has anxiety and I didn’t know. The signs were there, but I was oblivious. I just didn’t know the clues to look for. I’m hoping that by sharing our story, it might help other families.
The first sign that something was wrong was when my son was diagnosed with ADHD. He was emotional, and I started noticing that even when he had his ADHD symptoms managed, he worried constantly.
One day, we were sitting in a parking lot and he asked me what the handicap symbol on a parking space meant. I explained that it was a special space reserved for those with disabilities, like his Pappy, who is a disabled veteran.
I told him that when Pappy was in the Army, he got really sick and now he has trouble breathing and walking for long distances. Andrew looked at me in terror, “I don’t want to get sick and stop breathing!” he told me. I calmly explained that the illness was very rare and it would likely never happen to him.
But when you have a child with anxiety, they immediately jump to the worst-case scenario, no matter how implausible it may be.
My son has told me he can’t go to the bathroom alone because he is scared of bad guys coming out of the vents. (How would they even get in there?!)
He’s confessed that he worries about strangers “stealing” him when he’s playing outside. (He never plays outside alone and our backyard is completely fenced in and locked.)
He worries about being bullied at school. (He has a ton of friends and has never been bullied to my knowledge.)
He worries about our family running out of money. (We are very comfortable and have never had a problem financially.)
Signs That Your Child Might Have Anxiety
He complains of headaches or stomach aches but there’s no medical reason for them. Did you know that the stomach and intestine have their own nervous system, called the enteric nervous system? These nerves respond to the same stress hormones and neurotransmitters that our brains do. So when we are stressed about something, the enteric nervous system can cause a stomach ache because they are reacting to the stress.
She has trouble falling or staying asleep. Anxiety can disrupt sleep patterns, and general worries can keep kids from getting a good night’s sleep. This one has been particularly difficult for our son. He doesn’t like to sleep alone, and he suffers from nightmares. He will often wake in the middle of the night and come into our room. He also asks for a glass of water regularly.
He has exaggerated fears (about things like natural disasters, etc.). As I mentioned earlier, this is something that my kiddo talks about a lot. He is terrified of storms, and has mentions multiple times that he is scared our house will burn down.
She says “I can’t do it!” without a real reason. Negative thoughts seem to rule my son’s life. “I can’t” and “It’s too hard” fall out of his mouth constantly. If something is too overwhelming, like school work, he will just give up instead of trying to work through his anxiety.
He cries often or acts extremely sensitive. This is another sign that I wish I would have recognized. My son is super sensitive constantly watches those around him, gauging their reaction to his actions and others. He gets upset if something changes, if things don’t go according to plan. He gets his feelings hurt easily.
She becomes grouchy or angry without any clear reason. Again, this is an emotional regulation issue that my son struggles with. Sometimes it seems like the littlest thing will set him off. What seems like a trivial or insignificant thing can turn into an angry meltdown in a matter of seconds.
He constantly seeks approval from parents, teachers and friends. My son’s teacher told me one time that she noticed that he constantly watches her, waiting for her approval to move on to another task. He becomes extremely unhappy if he thinks he has disappointed anyone.
She asks “what if?” constantly. (“What if an earthquake happened?”) This seems to go along with the unnatural fears sign. For my son, he wants to know the plan in case an unexpected situation comes up. What should he do? How should he react? Then he can mentally prepare himself for the eventuality.
He is afraid of making even minor mistakes. Perfectionist tendencies can be very common in kids with anxiety. My son once had an anxiety attack because he misspelled a word on a card he was making.
She worries about things that are far in the future (for example, a third grader might worry about starting middle school). My kiddo often talks about having to grow old and how he does not want to go to college and have to leave our house.
Of course, there are many signs and symptoms of anxiety, and these are just a few that resonated with me for my son.
Looking back, I can see that my son had anxiety all along. Our pediatrician believes it was masked by his ADHD symptoms and became more obvious once his symptoms were under control. Now we are beginning a whole new journey, with all new treatment options and symptoms to explore.
Always talk to your child’s pediatrician and seek medical help if you are concerned that your child may suffer from anxiety or other mental disorder.