Identifying the signs of anxiety in children – and how to help

Identifying the signs of anxiety in children is not always a straightforward task. While a certain amount of stress and anxiety is a normal part of life, if you notice that your child doesn’t seem to be coping, you need to step in and help.

Firstly, if your child is not forthcoming about the fact that they are feeling overwhelmed by school, or anxious out about life in general, it’s important to recognise the signs that they may need support.


anxiety in children

How to identify if your child is having a hard time coping.

Common signs of stress or anxiety include:

· Becoming withdrawn and irritable

· A lack of motivation or desire to complete tasks, particularly schoolwork

· Appearing to be anxious and on edge

· Not wanting to socialise

· Having difficulty concentrating

· Experiencing headaches and stomach cramps

· A change in sleeping pattern (for example, staying up later at night and getting up later in the morning)

Five ways that you can help

If your child does not reach out to you to tell you that they are struggling, approach them at a time when they are relaxed and not preoccupied with something else.

1. Be an outlet for them

Your child may not want to open up after your first attempt to help them, but be patient and continue to remind them that you are there if and when they are ready to talk. When they are ready, be there to listen first and foremost – you do not necessarily need to offer them solutions immediately. Let them tell you what’s on their mind, let them vent, let them get things off their chest. Talking through what they are experiencing and sharing can already be a big weight off their shoulders.

School anxiety
Teenage boy with anxiety

2. Determine the type of stress or anxiety they are dealing with

When you realise what is causing them to feel overwhelmed or anxious, it’s helpful to determine the type of stress they’re experiencing and the severity of it so that you can work out the best way to mitigate it. Positive stress can be caused by a school project, exams, an upcoming sporting event – this is something that may present a challenge to children but is also a good motivator. It is usual to experience this type of stress or anxiety and it helps children to grow and gain coping skills for later in life. Life event stress often occurs when children are facing a difficult situation – a sick family member (or they themselves are ill), being in a car accident, parents getting divorced, the death of a close friend or family member or moving homes. Chronic stress is when one or more of the above situations creates constant stress in your child’s life, prolonging their suffering and affecting their mental health.

3. Start to explore solutions

Once you have a clearer idea of why they are feeling anxious and the type of stress they are dealing with it is easier to work on a solution. If exams or an upcoming performance are stressing them out, reassure them that if they study/practice beforehand and take each step towards their goal in their stride, there is nothing to worry about. ‘If you fail to plan, plan to fail’ is a popular saying with good reason. Remind your child that their hard work and preparedness will pay off. Life event stress and chronic stress may require external assistance depending on the situation, but irrespective, as a parent you can help them by talking through the situations with them; telling them that their feelings are valid and important; reiterating that you are there for them and that you are always there to support. Reach out to your GP or a therapist for more guidance if you feel that is required.

Teenage girl with anxiety
Mother supporting anxious daughter

4. Teach them coping skills

Irrespective of the type of stress or anxiety your child may be experiencing, all children should be taught basic coping skills that can assist them when they start to feel overwhelmed or anxious. Writing a list and breaking up things that they need to complete into separate tasks makes things seem more manageable. It also allows them to tick things off as they go, which is a great motivator. Empower them with basic breathing techniques for calming down, create a ‘zen’ playlist of music they can listen to, or bookmark some ‘meditation for kids/teens’ videos on YouTube. Remind them to reach out and talk or ask someone for help when they are feeling swamped.

5. Get them out of their head

Distraction can work wonders when your child is going through a really tough time. Get them outdoors, get them moving, get them laughing and being silly, no matter their age. If they are wallowing and focusing on a certain issue, they need to learn to step away. Exercise or being outdoors and getting some fresh air can really lift the spirits, but if that’s not a possibility, even a dance-off session in the lounge or making a meal together in the kitchen can really lift their spirits and turn the situation around.

Learn how Wolsey Hall student, Coumba, overcame some of the problems that she faced in this video.

At Wolsey Hall we focus on supporting our students throughout their courses, and we pride ourselves on also equipping them with skills to thrive beyond the classroom. We have a large team of dedicated people all driven by their desire to support and assist our homeschooling students to the full. Learn more about our team here.

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