My teenage son and I are trading anxiety disorder war stories and laughing together. He’s 19, handsome and strong and in so many ways more self-assured than I was or am, but at the same time, he’s awkward, and full of the insecurities of adolescence. Oh, and he seems to have inherited my faulty mental wiring, which means his psychological smoke detector goes off for no damn good reason. We talk openly and often about therapy, medication, and panic attacks that we suffer from. My own anxiety these days is a bit erratic. It can still swoop in and knock me off my feet like a rogue wave. I have no choice but to be honest when this happens because I can’t really hide it if stress-tears are rolling down my face. “It’s ok. I’m just having a panic attack. I’m going to go lie down for sec. It’ll pass,” I reassure my kids. My daughter accepts this because she’s seen it. My son accepts this because he’s been through it. The main reason I talk to my kids about mental health is this: I want it to feel completely normal for them. Not that panic attacks should feel normal, but discussing any sort of mental issue should be as no-nonsense as talking about what to do for a sprained ankle. “If something hurts, tell me so I can help you.”
It’s important for parents to recognize and identify the signs and symptoms of kids’ anxieties so that fears don’t get in the way of everyday life.
Some signs that a child may be anxious about something may include:
They often won’t want to be social.
They’ll want to stay at home more.
They will be clingy with parents.
They’ll have more headaches and stomachaches and may spend more time in nurses office and they won’t want to go to school.
They are more irritable and have lower frustration tolerations.
They may have difficult sleeping, staying asleep, or changes in appetite.
They seem edgy.
They don’t want to go to practice.
They need lots of reassurance.
Homework takes longer than it should.
Sometimes just talking about the fear can help a child move beyond it. As a parent, remember that you are the most influential person in your child’s life.