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Childhood Anxiety: Do you know what to look for?

There are normal childhood anxieties, but as a parent, would you know when these normal childhood anxieties turn into something more?

When I was a kid, I use to get the worst stomach aches to the point that I would make myself sick.  Looking back now, it’s clear that I was suffering from anxiety.  There were other signs like nail bitting, itching, and panic attacks, but as children we don’t have the words to express what’s going on inside of our heads. So, rather than talking about what was really causing the anxiety I would complain of stomach aches.  These would be written off as me “crying wolf” because I didn’t want to do something.

I have my theories about what caused my anxiety. When I first entered elementary school, I was in 5 different schools before the 2nd grade.  As a little girl that’s a lot of change.  There is no one at fault, it was just life in the 1970′s.  Anxiety in children just wasn’t something that was thought about.

I remember walking to school (yes this was back in the day when a 1st grader would walk to school by themselves) telling myself that I could make it the whole way there.  I would will myself to keep walking and make it to school.   Most days I would make it, but there were those days where the panic would just take over.  My chest would get hot, my stomach would ache, my head would implode.  It felt like someone put their hands over my ears and I couldn’t hear anything going on around me.  At this point, I would turn around and walk home.  Of course I would get in trouble, but that was better than what ever uncertainty faced me at school.

This eventually turned into panic attacks (also known at the time as temper tantrums) outside of the classroom even if my mom had walked me to school. Many days I would end up in the principal’s office calling my mom because of a stomach ache.  It was a constant internal battle and I did not have the words to explain what was really going on.  I never created a bond with any teacher or classmate.  I don’t remember the name of any of my elementary school teachers and the names of the schools? I think one of them was called Park Elementary, but that may have been the name of a school in a story, too.  It was a very lonely experience.

These anxiety issues have all carried over into adulthood. Now I can sense when an anxiety or a panic attack are about to come on and normally I can stop them.  I worry now that I’m going to pass this on to Ellie and I’m constantly looking for signs.

So what are some of the signs?

1. Excessive worrying for days on end

2. Trouble concentrating

3. Trouble sleeping at night

4. Frequent stomach aches, excessive headaches and other physical complaints

5. Refusing to go to school

6. Being overly clingy (keep in mind separation anxiety is completely normal for toddlers)

7. Panic or tantrums at times of separation from parents

8. Fears of embarrassment or making mistakes

9. Inability to focus on classwork or other tasks

10. Borderline obsessive habits such as nail biting, picking and scratching.

Having one or all doesn’t mean your child is suffering an anxiety disorder, but talk to a counselor.  If your child is diagnosed, make sure you talk to your child’s school and teacher.  Remember, you are your child’s advocate.  Reach out to ADAA and they will help you find local help. There is help out there!


Theresa is the founder of Rock on Mommies, a blog that reminds moms not to lose themselves in motherhood.

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