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How to identify children who may be struggling with anxiety

November 16, 2012

by Michelle Morris

Children struggling with excessive anxiety may show the following:

  • Pessimism and negative thinking patterns such as imagining the worst, over-exaggerating the negatives, rigidity and inflexibility, self-criticism, guilty thoughts, etc.
  • Anger, aggression, restlessness, irritability, tantrums, opposition and defiance
  • Constant worry about things that might happen or have happened
  • Crying
  • Physical complaints such as stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, etc.
  • Avoidance behaviours, such as avoiding things or places or refusing to do things or go places
  • Sleeping difficulties, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, nightmares, or night terror
  • Perfectionism
  • Excessive clinginess and separation anxiety
  • Procrastination
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • Withdrawal from activities and family interactions
  • Eating disturbances

Impact on the Family

Overly anxious children can have a negative impact on the family. Highly anxious children can be demanding and can become very emotional if things don’t go the way they want. Parents can become confused about how firm they need to be with limits and if they should give in to the child to avoid emotional outbursts.

When Does Anxiety Become a Problem for Children?

When a child is very young, normal fears can be accepted. However, as a child grows, fears and anxieties that were considered normal at a younger stage of development may be less appropriate.

Some indications of excessive anxiety in a child include fear that is out of proportion to the actual threat in the environment or anxiety that is excessive for an anticipated future event. Also, children struggling with too much anxiety will often have difficulties in settling back to a normal state.

Anxiety becomes a problem when it prevents children from enjoying normal life experiences. For example, when anxiety begins to have an impact on school, friendships, or family, then parents or other adults may need to step in to help the child.

Michelle Morris is the principal psychologist at Life Resolutions Caroline Springs in Victoria.  She has over 30 years experience working in private practice and holds several qualifications. In additional to being a registered psychologist, she is a qualified nurse, midwife and holds postgraduate qualifications in law and family therapy.  Michelle has a special interest in family relationships. She is passionate in helping family members access skills to manage difficult and challenging times.

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