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How do you know whether you have an anxious child or not? It can be difficult to tell, especially when they’re young. I’m hoping I may be able to help other parents identify anxiety symptoms early on, so you can start preparing, and have a plan in place ahead of time.
First, let me start by saying that I have struggled myself with anxiety and depression. Mental illness runs in my family, and is often hereditary. However, there are other factors that can contribute to your child being born with anxiety and/or depression. Their brains may just be wired to worry.
I have three children, each with their own personality. As babies and toddlers, even into their preschool years, they were your average typical children, which is why I wasn’t prepared for what I would experience with my third child.
My youngest was different right from the start. She didn’t cry, she screamed. She wasn’t very tolerant of loud noises, and was only truly content when she was being held. From then to her toddler years were difficult.
Do you have an anxious child?
Looking back, here are some of the behaviors that she exhibited as a newborn and through her toddler years that stood out to me, compared to my other children:
- Not easily comforted or consoled
- Extreme separation anxiety that did not improve with age
- Overall, a seemingly ‘sad’ child
- Late in reaching milestones, compared to her siblings
- Difficulty in getting her to sleep in her crib/bed
- Easily upset and agitated
- Overreacting to normal situations
- Close with only a few family members; those few attachments were extreme
- Not interested in other children, aside from siblings
- Extremely clingy and needy
- Did not want to “share” me with her siblings
These were some of the things I noticed about her behavior that stood out to me. Every child is different, and anxiety levels may vary. As she got older, her behavior and reactions intensified. I wish I had known that these were some of the signs of an anxious child.
Side note: I mentioned my concerns to her pediatrician, who was witness to her extreme reactions when I would take her in. I was told I had a ‘difficult child’, and that I just needed to be firm with her.
Preschool years with an anxious child
Her preschool years are what parent’s nightmares are made of. She did not want to go. Every single morning, for two years, I was always the last parent still sitting in the drop off circle, trying to get my child out of the car. One of the teachers would come out, and they’d ask if I wanted them to take her, and they’d carry her in, sometimes crying and screaming, sometimes just a few tears.
As a parent, it was heart wrenching. All three of my kids attended this preschool, so my daughter had been around these teachers since she was an infant. They weren’t completely foreign to her, and I couldn’t understand why she didn’t want to go. One of the teachers would always call me and let me know that once she was in the door, she was perfectly fine.
They had playground time at the end of their 3 hour day, so I’d always come a little early so I could watch her play. I started to notice that she was never playing with the other kids. She was always either off to herself, or hanging close by to one of the teachers. I mentioned this to the teachers, and they said that some kids just prefer to play alone, so I thought it wasn’t a big deal.
It was a rough time, but I figured it was a learning experience for her, and that things would get better as she got older. I had never been more wrong about anything in my life.
Elementary school years with an anxious child
This is where the fun really began. Elementary school was a disaster from the beginning. She would sometimes run away from the bus, right as it would pull up to pick them up, I’d have to end up taking her to school. She instantly despised school, and did not want to go.
From Kindergarten until Second grade, having an anxious child was a nonstop roller coaster ride. She was not making friends, and her behavior was escalating. This ended up in several meetings with school counseling personnel, and I agreed to have her assessed for behavioral issues.
This is when I finally learned what was going on. I found out that I had an extremely intelligent, but very anxious child. She was diagnosed with over-focused anxiety disorder. They decided that an IEP would be best for her, which would allow for certain accommodations that would hopefully ease her symptoms while at school.
The IEP helped a little, but not very much. She was also acting out at home, and would have these ‘episodes’ (for a lack of a better word) where she would scream and cry, attack her siblings, and destroy her room. When I could finally get her to calm down, she would apologize, and feel badly about her behavior. I could tell that this was all just as difficult for her, possibly more so, than it was for me.
I tried counseling, but she wouldn’t cooperate. It didn’t do much good at the time. Eventually, by 3rd grade, she ended up kicking out a window in one of the classrooms, and the behavior was not taken lightly. This ended up being a turning point, and she finally started to gain a little more control of herself and her feelings.
Those who work with her and understand her anxiety can make all the difference!
Luckily, she was going to a new school at this time, and the counselors who worked with her there were amazing! More importantly, she was able to form a connection with them as well, which is imperative to getting through to her.
As an anxious child, she still has difficulties with certain things. As she’s gotten older, she is starting to understand more about her anxiety. She has learned how to keep it under control for the most part, and when her emotions start escalating, I have her go take a moment to calm herself down, and this seems to work pretty well.
How my anxious child is doing now
She still hates school, and reminds us all regularly, but she knows it’s something she has to do, and doesn’t fight it like she used to. She’s a straight A student, and has no trouble at all with school work.
She will often tell me she has a headache, or her stomach hurts. These are cues that let me know she’s feeling worried or anxious about something. When this happens, I try to get her to open up about what’s on her mind, and reassure her that everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.
My daughter isn’t shy, but she still isn’t super sociable. She has one friend that she’s very close with, and another friend that they share in common that she seems to like. Interaction with other kids has gotten a little better, which is good. She definitely does her own thing, and doesn’t really care what others think about it!
She’s so sweet and kind, and is such a great kid. As a parent of an anxious child, the best advice I can give is to just have patience. Love them for who they are, and be as understanding as you can.
Things that can help when you have an anxious child
If I were aware sooner that I was dealing with an anxious child, I could possibly have prevented her from going through such a struggle. I have shared my experience in the hopes that I can help to keep other parents and children from going through this.
There are some ways that you can help your anxious child. Now that I know what’s going on, I know what I can do to help. These are some things I do with my daughter that really help her a lot.
I am very careful not to let my own anxiety affect her, as much as I possibly can. We talk regularly about different things she can try to calm herself when she starts feeling anxious. I let her know that I understand her feelings, and I acknowledge that I know how hard it can be to have anxiety.
She likes to write, so I bought her a journal. Journaling her thoughts and feelings have been a great way for her to work through her feelings.
I also try to help her in figuring out what triggers her anxiety. We talk about it, and together, we come up with things she can do to help her in situations that cause her to start feeling anxious. I’m always encouraging her to try new things, and I push myself to do the same, to show her that we can fight this together!
After all, how can I tell her to be brave if I can’t be brave? I push myself every single day, for her. Our talks are great, and they help a lot, but I also want to show her how to face her fears, and I do this by facing my own.
I think she helps me, just as much as I help her.