What’s inside this article: Warning signs that your preteen or teen is experiencing anxiety, how to tell if it’s a normal level of anxiety, or excessive, and what to do if you suspect, or your child is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is a completely normal emotion that everybody has, but when a person has excessive anxiety that interferes with their life, it becomes an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are relatively common. In fact, approximately 13% of preteens and teens have a diagnosis of some form of anxiety disorder.
Plus, many more children and teens experience anxiety symptoms without a clinical diagnosis. This is why it’s so crucial for parents to stay informed and know what to watch for in their children.
How to Know If Your Child’s Anxiety Is Normal
Everyone experiences anxiety. It’s a normal emotion, and a way our brains help keep us safe. This makes it challenging at times, to know whether or not your child’s anxiety is cause for concern.
As a rule of thumb, if the symptoms are causing distress to the point that it changes how your child lives their life, it’s a problem and worthy of following with a physician.
For example, it’s normal to feel anxious before giving a presentation. But, if your child feels so anxious that they become physically ill and miss school, there’s a problem.
Untreated anxiety issues may lead to other mental health problems, like depression or dysfunctional eating. So, always discuss your concerns with your child’s doctor.
Warning Signs Your Child’s Experiencing Anxiety
Panic attacks are brief episodes that may involve shaking, sweating, dizziness, racing heart rate, trouble breathing (hyperventilating), and a sense of impending doom.
These attacks are sometimes isolated or they may be part of a more significant anxiety disorder such as panic disorder.
Refusal to Go to School
One sign of anxiety in children and teens is school refusal.
There are other reasons kids refuse to attend school (like bullying or something else at school causing distress) but, this may indicate a social-anxiety disorder.
Pay attention to how your child’s behavior and mood change after interacting with their peers and teachers.
Early Puberty Can Cause Anxiety
Preteens who start puberty early are at higher risk for anxiety. This is known as precocious puberty.
With puberty comes bodily changes and hormonal changes, which can affect anxiety levels. Going through these changes before their peers can be exceptionally hard for preteens as they experience all these changes alone.
Along with adapting to bodily changes from puberty, preteens and teens also need more privacy due to menstrual cycles for girls and erections for boys. Preteens in lower grades may not be able to access the needed level of privacy as readily as high school teens.
This might feel like more than your child can handle.
Being bullied at school is another factor contributing to anxiety in preteens and teens.
Bullying can cause anxiety issues both immediately (anxious about going to school and being bullied) and long-term (damage to self-esteem and body image from being bullied).
Plus, the kids doing the bullying may also have unaddressed anxiety issues.
Is your child being bullied?
- Have regular conversations with your child about their peer relationships
- Teach kids about kindness, being a good friend, and being in healthy relationships so they know when someone is treating them unhealthily
- Teach about problem-solving, compromising, and other social skills to set them up for successfully handling difficult social situations.
- Ensure your child has a safe, trusted adult in their life they can talk to if they are bullied. Not all teens feel comfortable opening up to their parents.
When preteens and teens are experiencing anxiety, they are more likely to engage in unhealthy habits.
Pay close attention to warnings like:
- Drug and alcohol use
- Disordered eating
- Poor sleep
- Frequent physical ailments (like stomach pain, headaches, etc.)
Having a Negative or Fixed Mindset
Falling into patterns of negative thinking increases the chances of developing mental health disorders such as anxiety.
There are six common negative thinking patterns that you may see in your child. Read about these in detail here.
You can help reduce anxiety in many ways.
- Regular exercise is decreases anxiety and improves mood
- Having a toolbox of coping strategies for difficult situations
- Eating healthy
- Talking to someone you trust
- The Step Ladder Approach
- For some, therapy and/or medication are needed.
If you’re worried your child is struggling to manage anxiety, talk to their doctor or pediatrician. A referral to a therapist may be in order.