By Donna Shea & Nadine Briggs
Anxiety is the root cause of many of the struggles that I see the kids experience each week in group. Some of what I observe is clearly anxiety, but in many instances, we adults need to look deeper to see the anxiety beneath a behavior or an interaction. There are as many different ways that anxiety exhibits itself as there are children. Here are examples of what anxiety has looked like in social groups:
- A child who needs to have his mom sit in the hallway instead of the waiting room for the first few weeks.
- The child who doesn’t respond to an invitation to play and just shrugs his shoulders and looks at the floor.
- A child who repeatedly states that he is in first grade, but is supposed to be in second grade, to the point where you begin to realize that this is a big source of concern for him.
- The tween who feels overwhelmed by something that happened at school and can’t let go of the thoughts.
- Kids who can’t let go of thoughts in general. A child who appears stuck or rigid may be anxious.
- A child who screams at another child for coming too close to something he is building and takes the other child by surprise.
- The child who over-explains, needs permission to make a decision or apologizes too much is likely experiencing the fear of making a mistake.
These are just a few examples. My view as a social coach and behavior specialist is to assume anxiety is in play when something isn’t going well for a child. If he or she seems defiant, rigid or does things repetitively, ask your child if he or she is worried about something. Sometimes kids don’t understand what that means, so you could also phrase it by asking if your child has a concern about something, or maybe has a thought that he or she keeps thinking and can’t make go away.
It is also important to let your child or teen know that no worry is “too weird” and that he or she should never feel that they have to worry alone. Sometimes a good strategy for anxiety is just to name and acknowledge what it is that is weighing you down.