How do I know if my child is anxious?

We have all experienced nervousness, worrying and fear. Anxiety is part of our human experience and plays an important evolutionary role in making us aware of risks and keeping us safe. Anxiety becomes problematic when it is out of proportion to the situation and has an impact on daily life. Children are not immune to anxiety; however, they often lack the awareness or vocabulary to express what is going on for them. Instead, they may communicate this through certain behaviours, which may include:

  • Finding it difficult to concentrate
  • Difficulty falling asleep or frequent waking during the night
  • Reduced appetite
  • Seeming more irritable than usual, fidgety or ‘on edge’
  • Complaining of stomach aches, diarrhoea, headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath or a racing heart
  • Crying often
  • Being extra ‘clingy’ and not wanting to separate from parents
  • Reporting being ‘worried’ or having ‘bad thoughts’
  • Avoiding certain situations or asking others to do things for them
  • Seeking excessive amounts of reassurance from parents
  • Not being willing to try new things

Certain factors can make children more vulnerable to anxiety. This can include their temperament, a family history of anxiety and the presence of a developmental difference, such as ASD or ADHD. Certain situations, such as parental separation, bereavement, moving schools, bullying or illness can also predispose children to anxiety.

The good news is that anxiety is manageable, and there are many strategies that parents and children can use to reduce the effect that anxiety is having on their life. This is a great time to explore meeting with a psychologist (someone who is experienced in working with children your child’s age) to learn some effective, evidence-based strategies for managing anxiety in kids.

Olivia Smith is a registered psychologist and is completing her registrar program in Educational and Developmental Psychology. Olivia is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success. Outside of her work at NCCD, Olivia works as a clinician in the area of early identification of autism in children (aged 12 to 36 months) at the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre at La Trobe University.

Have you seen our founder Amanda Abel’s new online school for parents? It’s called The Psychology Room and her first course has been lauched – The Good Night Toolbox – with tools for parents to help their child get to sleep at night. Check it out here!

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