You can already predict the scenario as you begin the bedtime routine with your child. Baths are done, stories are read, and now it’s time for bed. Your child needs exactly the right things in bed that are positioned in just the right way. Then you are peppered with questions about how you can be sure that the animals you just read about can’t get into your child’s bedroom while everyone is asleep. You spend quite a bit of time explaining why your child is safe. Your child appears comforted – until they see shadows on the wall. You begin reassuring your child once again.
You wonder why the bedtime routine is so difficult? Is your child manipulating you? Or could your child be experiencing anxiety?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports nearly a 7% rate of anxiety in children under 10. Studies reveal that 80% of children don’t receive treatment for their anxiety. An untreated anxiety disorder can lead to sleep difficulties, difficulty making and maintaining relationships, and leave your child feeling worthless. It also prevents children from developing good coping skills since they tend to avoid what causes them anxiety.
Children don’t tell you they have anxiety, but they do tell you in other ways. They give you physical, emotional and behavioral signs.
Physical Signs of Anxiety in Children Under 10
- Gastrointestinal problems: won’t poop, has frequent stomachaches, nausea, cramps
- Refuses to eat or a picky eater
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Frequent nightmares
- Sensitive to sounds and/or the feel of clothing, dirty hands, etc.
Emotional Signs of Anxiety in Children Under 10
- Frequent temper tantrums/meltdowns
- Mood shifts to angry very suddenly
- Cries often
- Perfectionism to the extreme
- Gets very upset when rituals are disrupted
- Has a clear idea about what is the “right way,” and gets very agitated if their “correct way” isn’t followed
- Is afraid to make mistakes or do something the “wrong” way
- Has panic attacks and is afraid of having panic attacks
- Worries excessively (often about imagined scenarios or things in the distant future)
- Extreme fear about separating from a caregiver (follows you everywhere, afraid to go to sleep, worried you won’t come back or will get hurt)
Behavioral Signs of Anxiety in Children Under 10
- Bites cheeks, nails, licks lips until chapped
- Will only use a certain toilet or home bathroom
- Refuses to go to school
- Needs rituals vs. routines
- Avoids situations that cause stress (going to sleep, certain people and places)
Children with anxiety disorders won’t exhibit all of these signs. As a matter of fact, they can also be among some of the most tenderhearted children you will meet.
The good news is your child has the best opportunity to reach their full potential the earlier their childhood anxiety disorders are recognized and treated. At LifeStance Health, we spend time developing rapport with your child through inviting activities like playing and crafting. As we get to know your child, we can uncover the root of their anxiety and develop coping strategies customized for your child. These positive benefits can last a lifetime.