by Kristi Miller, MS, LPC-MH, Certified Theraplay Therapist
Most adults and children experience stress. According to Dictionary sources, “Strain, tension, pressure, and tightness” also describes stress. Manageable stress can be helpful if it propels children towards a positive experience. Studying for a difficult test, focusing during a concert performance, or pitching in to help when a family member is sick are some examples. A child will likely feel pride and relief when they conquer something challenging.
Accumulating stress with minimal relief can turn into anxiety. Parents may notice emotional or behavioral responses from children that indicate coping is extremely difficult. It can be painful and frustrating when our child appears stuck in the spiral of anxiety. We want to help! Reasoning, bribing, questioning, and discipline may be parental responses that are often unsuccessful.
The American Psychological Association describes behavioral and emotional indicators your child may be highly anxious.
Watch for negative changes in behavior such as refusing to attend school, tears or tantrums, increased hyperactivity/difficulty focusing, or increased sibling rivalry. Young children may be unaware of why they are misbehaving due to developmental immaturity. Frequently asking a child “Why” may sound accusatory and increase the child’s stress. Parent’s intervening as “ detectives” may be helpful. Teachers, Grandparents, and peers can be additional resources to provide feedback about the child. When an anxious child misbehaves, routinely consider what the actual feeling/experience is beneath the behavior. The child’s source of anxious thoughts/behaviors likely resides there. Parental discord, bullying at school, illness or death, or moving to a new community can be trigger anxiety.
Health problems may arise that appear to have little or no physical origin. Headaches, sleep difficulties, stomachaches, or preoccupation with health concerns can occur. It can be extremely frustrating when a child receives a “clean bill of health” but continues experiencing symptoms. Significant stress/anxiety has been contributed to illness. It’s important to maintain a close relationship with your child’s physician regarding this.
- Listen to your child’s concerns or dialogue. Pessimism, irritability, tears, self-deprecation, or frequent reassurance seeking from you may be signs the child is highly stressed. Assist your child to understand and/or verbalize various feeling words that may describe his/her experiences. It can be challenging but tackling difficult issues together usually assists over time. Journaling, books about worries, uninterrupted short play time with parents, sports, parent dates, exercise, and music are a few examples that can be helpful. Limit the amount of television such as the news (especially now regarding COVID-19). Watch your child’s activities on the internet or video games that could contribute to anxiety.
As parents we hope for our child to grow out of this phase. There are times of relief and anxiety diminishes. However, if a child continues to struggle with intense stress or anxiety, he/she can experience enhanced symptoms and vulnerabilities. The child may need professional assistance.
If your child experiences intense anxiety that appears resistant to your parenting strategies please know that therapeutic intervention can be a valuable gift to your child. Sioux Falls Psychological Services and River Counseling can meet you where you are, offering hope. You may schedule an appointment in the Platte office or meet with one of our Sioux Falls Psychological Services therapists from your own computer, smart phone or over the computer in the Platte office. To schedule your appointment, call 605-337-3444.