The simple answer to that is yes, they can experience anxiety. However, childhood anxiety is a very tricky issue because it doesn’t always look like what we expect it to. Everyone gets nervous, or anxious, and that is very normal, but not everyone has anxiety that impacts them in multiple areas of daily life. In the past, children who may have been experiencing anxiety might have been told they are more emotional than other kids, they have a nervous stomach or they are just oppositional.
When a child is experiencing anxiety that goes beyond the typical, it can eventually develop into an anxiety disorder. Children can show symptoms of anxiety in a multitude of ways, and sometimes, when a child is experiencing debilitating anxiety, adults don’t always know the right things to do! Childhood anxiety is something that can occur during any time in history, but we are currently experiencing many changes in how we exist in the world and at school, which may have an impact on more children than other things have in the past.
The pandemic we are currently navigating has had an impact on our children. A lot of children were able to experience more time together as families. While that time was certainly beneficial for our children, it is now time to return to a more normal routine and it can be hard for those children to separate from their families. There can also be an uneasiness being around other people as they wonder if those people are safe to be around. While reminders to social distance, wear masks, wash your hands and use sanitizer in public are all around us, they too can cause big feelings in our children.
It is important to remember that only a medical professional can diagnose any type of anxiety disorder, but parents and/or teachers are often the first to notice outward symptoms. There is a wealth of information online, but some of the symptoms of childhood anxiety that are worth noting are trouble sleeping, tantrums, stomachaches or headaches, “clingy” behaviors, trouble focusing in class, being fidgety, explosive outbursts, saying they are worried or shy or crying in atypical situations.
Some suggestions that are given to support a child with anxiety are to help the child manage the anxiety instead of avoiding situations that cause anxiety, be realistic with expectations and don’t make false promises, help the child to name the feeling of anxiousness, and then be there to help them get through the situation, talk through the worst-case scenarios and try to model healthy ways of handling typical anxiety.
As adults, it can create a feeling of helplessness when we see a child suffering, but as professionals continue to research and provide information, we hopefully can learn the most effective way to help our children and students if they are experiencing anxiety. If you have concerns about your child and anxiety, reach out to your physician, school counselor or school nurse.