Back to School: Sick or Actually Anxious Children
Is your kiddo just a little off-kilter recently?
As children head back to school, they might be feeling anxious about being separated from their siblings or parents, especially after months of togetherness. kiddos can experience anxiety and concern about being separated from their siblings or parents.
- Stomach aches before school shopping.
- Headaches before an annual physical.
- Butterflies before a field trip.
- Throwing up before the end-of-summer cheer competition.
These physical symptoms are the first sign for parents to look for in their anxious children. In fact, the child might not even know the meaning of nervous but is experiencing all the symptoms. Of course, all children get the occasional upset stomach or headache – a parent may think dehydration or too many sweets at grandmas. But when kids get them frequently, it’s a cause for concern and might be anxiety.
This blog will discuss how to recognize anxiety and what you can do to help before the school year starts.
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety for Children
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 7.1% of children between the ages of 3 and 17 have diagnosable anxiety.  Some of the most common yet true symptoms of anxiety in children include the following:
- Anger or aggression towards others or objects
- Avoiding specific situations
- Changes in eating habits
- Muscle tension
- Refusing to go to school
- Social withdraw
- Trouble sleeping or concentrating
It’s important to note the frequency and appearance of these symptoms varies from child to child and can depend on the nature of the anxiety. Specific locations, situations, or objects may trigger fear. It’s normal for children to have fear, but if it begins to persist beyond the age where they are expected to fade, it may be a cause of concern. For example, it’s not common for a late-teen to be fearful of being away from parents.
Types of Anxiety
Like grown-ups, children can also have a wide range of other anxiety disorders, like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to panic attacks. Some types of anxiety are more accessible to spot than others, but here are the most common types of anxiety found in children:
- Separation Anxiety: When a child exaggerates the fear of being away from their parents, it’s known as separation anxiety. Common in younger children, this type of anxiety is usually easy to spot and typically diminishes when the child is three to four years old.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Expressing an abundance of fear and worry for over six months or more by multiple things, such as work or friends, can be categorized into a type of anxiety known as a “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.”  They may also experience headaches, abdominal pain, and muscle aches.
- Phobias: In addition to the above general anxiety disorder, children may fear specific situations or objects, like spiders or thunderstorms. Most kids will outgrow phobias.
- Panic attacks: More commonly expressed during teen years, panic attacks are defined by having four or more of the following symptoms: 
- Depersonalization or derealization
- Chest pain
- Feeling choked
- Chills or hot flashes
- Nausea or abdominal pain
- Fast heart rate
- Fear of losing control
- Numbness or tingling (paresthesias)
- Select mutism: This type of anxiety is often overlooked because some people mistake Selective Mutism with a timid child. Children with this anxiety disorder will refuse to talk or may only speak to their close loved ones. 
Thankfully, there’s help available for children with anxiety disorders. If these above symptoms interfere with their day-to-day routine, it’s crucial for their development that you speak to your pediatrician, psychiatrist, or psychologist. An excellent place to start would be the child’s school counselor, who can offer advice and support relevant to their environment. They may also provide a referral for further evaluation.
There are so many wonderful options available in the Williamson County area. A place to start a discussion with another family or find resources would be The Williamson County Children’s Advocacy Center, click here.
As a parent or guardian, there are several things that you can do to improve the life of your child by helping them cope with their anxiety. Read on for these tactics:
- Don’t avoid fears: You might feel like you’re doing your child a favor by preventing concerns, but it’s only a short-term solution, providing momentary relief. Avoiding fears or triggers can worsen anxiety over time.
- Don’t force conversation: Offer a listening ear to your child, but don’t force the conversation about heading back to school and their fears. You want your child to feel open to discussing their concerns.
- Teach mindfulness: When your child expresses their concerns, don’t reinforce their fears. Instead, help your child practice relaxation techniques, such as breathing deeply in and out to slow the mind and heart. meditation for kids
- Practice Tolerating Fears: Expose your child gradually to the source while practicing those mindful tools may help them learn to tolerate the stress associated with anxiety, eventually learning there’s nothing to worry about! For example, if your child fears spiders, consider taking them to the zoo to learn about them from a professional.
- Validate feelings: When a child becomes clingy or fearful of separating before the school year, parents may become worrisome. However, they must stay calm and validate their feelings. Saying things like, “I will miss you while you are away, but I can’t wait to see you when you get home and look forward to hearing about what you learn today at school.”
- Set the tone: Don’t lead conversations that trigger anxiety. For example, stating, “Are you nervous about school tomorrow?” will give them something to worry about.
- Practice separating: Send children on a play-date or to their grandparent’s house to practice time away from each other.
There are so many different ways parents or guardians can help their children cope with their fears. First, avoid pretending the child’s anxiety doesn’t exist. Instead, show the kid that over time, with practice, these fears can be effectively managed with proper technique and guidance. Be patient and kind with your words. Anxiety is never easy for anyone, especially a child learning to deal with their own emotions.
Disclaimer: As always, it is essential to discuss any changes in your diet or exercise routine with your primary care doctor. While our information is necessary, every individual must be responsible for their due diligence concerning their health routine and guidelines.
For more information and further research, you may take a deeper look at the references below:
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Anxiety and depression in children: Get the facts. Reviewed December 2, 2020.
 Gale CK, Millichamp J. Generalised anxiety disorder in children and adolescents. BMJ Clin Evid. 2016;2016:1002.
 Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Anxiety disorders in children.
 Driessen J, Blom JD, Muris P, Blashfield RK, Molendijk ML. Anxiety in children with selective mutism: A meta-analysis. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. 2019. doi:10.1007/s10578-019-00933-1