Anxiety in Children Happens More Often Than We Think

Childhood is a happy, carefree time for many children but it can also be a time of stress and anxiety. Anxiety in children often happens when a child faces a situation where control is lost and what was once familiar becomes unfamiliar. Major life changes like starting school, the birth of a sibling, a divorce in the family and moving to a new neighborhood are all stressful situations that can contribute to anxiety in children. Other, more complex causes of stress and anxiety can come from parents’ expectations to excel, peer expectations to be popular and “fit in” or being reprimanded by a teacher.

But there are ways parents can help children cope with everyday life pressures and give their children the resources they will need to overcome stress. These insights from CEED (Center for Early Education and Development) at UMN CEHD will help parents recognize the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety their child may experience and how to help their child deal with stressful situations.

Recognizing the Physical Symptoms of Stress

Stress not only affects us mentally and emotionally – it also can cause actual physical pain. Oftentimes, a child may complain of headaches or a stomach ache which are most commonly caused by stress. While these pains can be related to other medical problems like an ear infection or the flu, it’s important for parents to watch for patterns when these pains occur. Is it right before going to school, visits to the dentist, sports games or a big test? If so, chances are these physical pains are stress-related.

How Parents Can Help Children Manage Stress

Parents can help reduce or eliminate the pain caused by stress by sitting down with your child and finding out what may be causing the headaches or stomach aches. Be careful not to interrogate your child. Instead, suggest the possibility that something other than a medical reason may be the source of your child’s pain. Encourage your child to share their feelings with you and together, come up with suggestions on how to ease the problem. Physical symptoms should subside within two or three weeks.

Other ways parents can help children master stress and anxiety include:

  • Build your child’s self-esteem and competence by helping your child find activities and interests that give them personal pleasure. Focus on the satisfaction the activity gives your child rather than on the performance.
  • Be available to listen to your child’s stories about the day. Find out how your child felt about the day as well as what they accomplished.
  • Show your child that you value them as a vital part of the family. Providing tasks for your child to accomplish lets them know that you think they are important.
  • Regularly evaluate your child’s schedule of activities. If your child is facing a tougher homework load, cut down on extracurricular activities. Give your child the chance to choose how leisure time will be spent.

Visit the CEED website for more tips on how to help children cope with stress and reduce anxiety.

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Reprinted with permission of the Center for Early Education and Development (CEED) at CEHD UMN. 

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