Local doctors and mental health specialists say parents should know the signs of anxiety in young children, but also remember that acting on “big feelings” is normal child behavior, especially at times of transition throughout the day. Still, according to national and state health offiials, Washington is experiencing a children’s mental health crisis.
If you think your child may be suffering from heightened or high anxiety, ask yourself these questions:
1) Do their feelings or behaviors interfere in daily life?
2) Do emotional storms continue over long periods of time? Does the storm blow over in 5 minutes, or does it take an hour?
3) Do upset periods interfere with sleep and eating?
If the answer to any or all of these questions is ‘Yes!’ seek support from a doctor, therapist or other person trained to diagnose childhood mental health concerns.
Remember, anxiety can look different in children and adults. Knowing the signs of high anxiety in kids is useful. They include, but are not limited to:
Your child insists on doing things a certain way and has meltdowns, tantrums, aggression if that “certain way” is disrupted. This behavior may be your child trying to get more predictability, because predictability mitigates anxiety.
Your child is subject to big wiggles, standing up/sitting down, and an inability to to keep their hands to themself. This may mean your child is processing the physical experience of anxiety.
Unexpected emotional reactions
Your child laughs when someone gets hurt, pretends not to care about being in trouble, and exhibits big anger over small issues. Such disproportionate feelings are often a mask for feelings or worries that a child finds it difficult to articulate.
For tips on managing anxiety in children, check out pediatrician Sarah Bergman Lewis’ article “When anxiety moves into your house.”