Stress is when children are worried or uncomfortable about something. In small doses, stress can be helpful, such as the stress children feel when they learn to ride a bike or how to swim. Anxiety, on the other hand, is when these worries interfere with their everyday lives and stop them from having fun or doing new things.
Children with anxiety symptoms have uncontrolled, negative thoughts and reactions to things that don’t bother most kids.
Genetics: Between 20-65% of kids with an anxiety disorder have a close relative with anxiety symptoms which suggests that it may be inherited.
There are a variety of things that can cause anxiety symptoms in children:
Children with certain diagnoses like autism and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) tend to have problems with anxiety.
Physical disorders such as an overactive thyroid, low blood sugar or frequent blood sugar swings can show up as anxiety symptoms.
Medications such as the stimulants used to treat ADHD, thyroid medications and caffeine can cause anxiety symptoms.
Anxious overprotective parenting, as well as overly critical parenting styles, affect the way kids approach life and may cause children to have anxiety symptoms.
Chronic stress can also lead to anxiety symptoms
Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic has almost doubled the incidence of stress, anxiety and depression in children and teens ( and in their parents).
Causes of chronic stress in children
Causes of Chronic Stress:
A diet lacking in essential nutrients like essential fatty acids, lean proteins, probiotics, vitamins, and minerals.
Poor sleep. Either not enough sleep or interrupted poor quality sleep.
Lack of physical exercise
Not enough time in nature
Too much screen time.
Lack of good quality interactions with people who love and care for them.
Social challenges like a child being bullied at home or at school, divorce, the death of a parent and physical and emotional abuse, long term problems between the parents
Postpartum depression in one or both parents can cause anxiety symptoms and behavioral problems in babies and older children.
Chronic stress or anxiety in one or both parents. The way you deal with stress and challenges teaches your child through your example how to deal with them. Children learn from what they see you (their parents) doing not by what you say. For instance, if you are afraid of spiders, your child is more likely to be afraid of spiders. If a mother with social anxiety copes with it by avoiding people, her child will learn to avoid people. If the dad screams and throws things when he is stressed, his child will learn to do the same thing, etc.
The COVID Pandemic
Knowing the possible causes of anxiety symptoms in your child gives you the tools you need to evaluate your unique family’s situation and to make proactive, effective plans to support their healing.
Does your child have symptoms of anxiety?
When you are able to recognize the symptoms of stress and anxiety you are in a great position to teach your child healthy ways to manage them.
Babies with stress and anxiety symptoms :
Cry a lot.
Are fussy, irritable and difficult to calm down
May have a poor appetite
Have problems with sleeping.
Become very clingy and have severe separation anxiety
May lose developmental milestones.
Toddlers and preschoolers suffering from too much stress/anxiety:
Are very irritable.
Throw lots of temper tantrums
Show physical violence like kicking and pushing
Have problems with sleeping.
Have nightmares and night terrors
Complain of stomach aches frequently.
Stop being able to do things they could do before and may lose some developmental milestones.
Get very clingy and have severe separation anxiety
School-aged children and teenagers with anxiety symptoms may have:
Disrupted sleep: they either can’t fall asleep or sleep restlessly. Their poor sleep then increases the anxiety they feel.
Physical complaints like headaches, stomach aches, and fatigue
They can’t let go easily and enjoy things as they happen.
They’re always on alert for danger and threats and feel unsafe.
They seem to be afraid of everything.
They focus mostly on their mistakes rather than their successes
They have all or nothing thinking. Things are black or white, right or wrong. They don’t see any grey areas.
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