Many adults wonder what children have to worry about. After all, they have all their basic needs met by others in the majority of circumstances. That said, the chief referral reason for child therapy revolves around a host of behaviors, symptoms, and interactions that will inevitably come to be diagnosed at Overanxious Disorder of Childhood. This same disorder is called Generalized Anxiety Disorder when applied to adults.
Let’s take a look at the symptoms of the overly anxious child and some of the presenting problems that may indicate this is going on.
Symptoms of the Overly Anxious Child:
Excessive anxiety or worry.
Difficulties controlling the anxiety or worry.
Restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge. A state of fear without a precipitating event.
A state of being easily tired or fatigued.
Difficulty concentrating. Ones mind going blank. Inability to focus.
Irritability including anger.
Muscle tension, tenseness.
Sleep disturbances. Reported difficulties going to sleep, staying asleep, or obtaining restful sleep.
So what’s the big deal about having anxiety?
Anxiety robs a child of peace, joy, fun, and a childhood. Children who worry don’t have the luxury of engaging in the here and now except for moments stolen back from the state of anxiety present much of the time. Children who worry report unhappiness, dread concerning the future, and a constant sense that the next bad thing is about to happen. Some of these children will have panic states where they have trouble breathing or catching their breath, a rapid heart beat, and they easily cry, shout, or act out with anger due to the inability to hold all of this inside.
Children often try to explain their anxiety and worry to their parents. Most children and teens tell me their parents simply don’t understand. Parents tell their children it is a state of mind. They are told there is nothing to feel anxious about. Parents get angry at their child’s report of anxiety and often parents dismiss it all as an exercise in child drama making.
Anxiety is real, palpable, and it feels, to the child or teen, as though one more thing will cause you to implode or explode. Anxious children don’t want to disappoint others. Often they are the family peace-keepers or mediators. They take on more than they can handle and seldom complain until that dreaded anxiety peaks.
If a parents want to intimately understand anxiety they do need to look a bit differently at their child. What do you really see? Is Johnny biting his lower lip. Is Joy biting her nails? Does Sara have trouble telling her teacher she doesn’t have time to do one more club? Is Brian working so hard in baseball and track that he is falling behind on his math and he stays up until midnight working on it? Look at what your children say and do. Then begin to ask questions.
Some good questions can take the form of some of the following examples:
How are you feeling today?
When I saw you studying last night it felt like you were worried about something, were you?
In soccer practice last night you blew up at George. That’s not typical for you. Are you worrying about something?
Watch how your child eats, sleeps, and eliminates. Do they rest? Or, is it go, go, go.
Try for a relationship of emotional honesty.
Take care and be well.
Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD