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Child Anxiety

The problem with parenthood is that children don’t come with a handbook or a manual. 

Even though childhood is a lived experience for us adults, it’s not one we remember clearly – and certainly not the very early years. So we begin our journey as parents with no frame of reference.

We have to learn our child’s behaviours from a position of more or less total ignorance, aside from the natural instincts that millions of years of evolution give us.

We have to learn to understand how our child communicates, and it’s a language that is foreign to most of us – even for those of us who might already have a child.

And because it’s often hard for us to interpret this new verbal and non-verbal language, it’s hardly surprising that we may miss signs that point to wider problems beyond ‘I’m hungry’ or ‘I’m tired’ or “I’m upset”.

 “I’ve got a tummy ache.”

“I feel sick.”

“I have a headache.” 

“I can’t get to sleep.”

“I just don’t want to go to school.”

If any of these statements resonate with you and your child it could be a symptom of anxiety or depression in your child. 

Sadly, more and more children are feeling anxious and worried about all sorts of situations – whether it’s the thought of going to school and socialising with their peers, a fear of leaving their mum, dad, or main carer, or the stress of being unable to understand their classroom subjects, among many more examples. 

In children under the age of 12, the most common anxiety is separation disorder anxiety, and it’s simply too easy to lay the blame at the door of the pandemic and lockdown.

Even before Covid, anxiety, and depression were becoming more common among children and adolescents.

Anxiety rears its ugly head in many forms, and some children are born more anxious than others and are less able to cope with stress. For others, anxiety is a learned behaviour, with peers or adults around the child influencing their own behaviours and emotions.

And then there are the children who develop anxiety after stressful events, which can include frequently moving home or school, or having unhappy home life. 

The list of potential anxiety triggers is, of course, endless. The challenge for parents is recognising anxious behaviour or depression and finding the right support for their child.

The inspiration for writing this has been the campaign of three fathers campaigning in memory of their three daughters, Sophie, Beth, and Emily, to raise awareness of the risk of suicide among young people. 

They walked 600 miles between four UK parliaments and have been honoured with Pride of Britain awards.

Social media played a massive part in their daughters’ sad stories and it’s a near certainty that many more children than we’re aware of are affected by the same or similar issues.

Parents need to be vigilant around the role and massive impact of social media in the lives and mental health of their teenage and young adult children 

Social media increases feelings of depression and anxiety in young people by driving up the pressure and need to constantly compare themselves to other people – people who are often projecting an ideal that involves airbrushed and fabricated lives and lifestyles.

In turn, this amplifies feelings of inadequacy about young users’ own lives and appearance and there are now multiple studies that have identified a strong link between heavy social media use and an increased risk of depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts.

So, how do we, as parents, know when our child is anxious or depressed? Here are some of the key tell-tale signs:

  • Poor sleep: anxiety can affect sleep patterns, often preventing a good night’s sleep which will then increase irritability, and lack of self-esteem. Anxiety can also be the cause of nightmares and sometimes bed wetting

  • Reduced concentration: your child may find it hard or harder to concentrate both at home and school

  • Lack of appetite or poor food choices: Anxiety and depression can have a negative impact on your child’s relationship with food. This may manifest as selective (or ‘picky’) eating, limited food intake, or poor diet

  • Negative thoughts: Your child may talk frequently about having worrying or negative thoughts

  • Restlessness: A child who is anxious or depressed may feel tense and fidgety, or using the toilet more frequently than normal

  • Always crying or being clingy: Sudden and frequent unexplained episodes of crying  or an increased demand for attention or reassurance may appear outwardly to be irrational, but are likely due to anxiety

  • Feeling unwell: Anxiety and depression may manifest as physical symptoms of poor health, such as tummy aches and feeling generally unwell.


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