My 8 year old son has suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember. Only I didn’t recognise it as that until much more recently. I am now slowly starting to gain the knowledge and tools I need to help him (and us) cope.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that a kid like him can have anxiety. He’s bubbly, confident and very sociable. When it comes to sports and activities like skateboards and acrobatic tricks, he is pretty much fearless, and does some crazy stunts without even a second thought. He’ll also stand up in class and present his speech with no problem at all, but have a complete melt down about the direction of wind before he goes for a surf or whether we’ll be 1 minute late for footy training.
It’s hard to admit sometimes but I used to see his anxiety ‘attacks’ as mis-behaving, especially as they would occur at the most random times and pretty much over nothing (or what I believed to be nothing). I used to get so frustrated and accuse him of being too old for tantrums! If we were out in public when it happened I’d throw him ‘the look’. You know that look that mums throw their kids that says ‘STOP whatever you’re doing right now, OR ELSE!”
Of course nothing I did helped and the behaviour continued. We’d often bash heads him and I, and I would end up going to bed at night with a horrible mixture in my gut of mummy guilt and pure frustration.
As he’s got older I’ve noticed more of a pattern in his ‘episodes’ and started to do a little research into it. I’ve finally realised that he is not being a ‘pain in arse’, but is actually suffering from panic attacks. I don’t still always know what will set him off as it changes all the time, and is often very random. Some days it can be as simple as forgetting his hat. Even though I will promise to drive home and get it and still be back before the school bell goes, he will still start to hyperventilate and ‘carry on’. Luckily I am now able to recognise this as a panic attack and can calm him down with some breathing techniques. In the past I would have just got frustrated with him and we would have both ended up in a big fight. He never used to be able to articulate the problem and I would just be thinking “Oh for goodness sake, it’s just a hat. Suck it up princess!”
I read a blog post a little while ago about techniques for treating children with anxiety issues and it was like someone had FINALLY given me all the answers I needed. She suggests ways of explaining to children exactly what anxiety is and how is feels (both physically and emotionally), so that they not only understand why they are getting this feeling, but they learn to recognise when they are getting it too. I went through these steps with Josh and I cannot recommend them enough. I have noticed a huge different in him (and me). He still gets anxiety and still over very random things, but we are both so much better at coping with it. Sometimes the episodes only last a few minutes now instead of hours or even days.
Did you know that anxiety in kids is more common than you think and 1 in 8 children will suffer from it. It is also a very treatable condition.
Do you have a child that suffers from anxiety?
Great post. My sons display anxiety in different ways – one internalises and the other externalises like your son. Like you, we encourage conversation of the feelings and often when they are spoken out loud, they are recognised and therefore dealt with better with everyone.
It’s so good to finally be able to recognise the symptoms and help his to verbalise how he’s feeling. xxx
Jeez, that’s tough. Well done on recognising his behaviour for what it is, & teaching him some coping strategies.
I experienced anxiety & panic attacks as a kid and it is terrifying – you feel like you have no control. Good luck xx
It is touch, but I’m so pleased I finally know what it is. The control this is so true – he’ll start off stressing about something and then by the end he actually doesn’t know what the problem is except that he can’t breathe. The body and mind and funny things some times – as well as amazing! xx
I noticed when I was teaching that children are generally more and more anxious. My niece suffers in a very similar way to your son. High five to you for sussing it out, doing your research, giving him coping strategies and making the situation more manageable for everybody. It’s one less thing to get anxious about xx
This might seem crazy but it just didn’t occur to me that children would get anxiety and panic attacks!! This whole situation has really opened my eyes and I’m so glad I’ve catch it early before he hits his teens x
I do indeed hun – In fact Sam has a book being published to help other kids with their anxiety. I will make sure a copy comes your way xx
Really, that is fabulous! Go Sam and yes please we would LOVE a copy xxx
I have a Mr 8 who often acts out, is very sensitive and often seems to act much younger than he is, with the occasional “meltdown”.
I have never once considered that he may have anxiety (I have anxiety so imagine the irony and frustration at myself for not even thinking of it).
I’ll definitely look at that post.
Thank you for opening my eyes!! Glad you and Josh have found some techniques that help you both xox
Don’t feel bad Sheridan, I was EXACTLY the same. It didn’t even occur to me that kids could get anxiety like that. I bet what you start to recognise the symptoms, things will start to get much easier. Do read the link I put in this post – it’s brilliant x
Hey Rob, my middle son suffers from anxiety too, and he can get me and the entire family totally frazzled with it! He’s also very confident and high achieving like Josh, so he’s not the type of kids you’d typically think of as “anxious”. Also similar to your son he is obsessed with getting things “right” – being on time is a big one, as is having the right stuff (like the hat scenario). Over the years I’ve learned that when he acts out behaviour wise this is generally a sign that he is anxious or stressed. So I take him aside and get him to talk about what’s REALLY worrying him. Once I know what he’s afraid of we workshop some “what if” solutions – like if the thing that’s worrying him happened what could we do to avoid it or fix it. He’s learning to be aware of when he’s blowing something out of proportion and he knows he can always come to me and we can talk it through. It’s exhausting at times but you are definitely on the right track xx
Thanks Rach! I love the idea of ‘workshopping’ the what if. I’m definitely going to give it a try. I’m so glad we’ve got on to this now before he hits his teens. It’s definitely exhausting that’s for sure, but I’m trying to put myself in his shoes a lot more now than I used to xxxx
I have one of these too Robyn, She makes me triple check that I have locked the doors at night, She is terrified of something happening to us. She is very sensitive and takes everything to heart. She over thinks things and you actually see her mind spinning. It’s slowly getting better….and don’t get me started on her reaction to thunderstorms!!
Oh dear! Poor thing, it must be so tough to be in their little heads! Don’t worry I have major freak-outs from my kids when the thunderstorms hit. How many kids do you think I can squeeze in my bed?? LOL x
I’ve had panic attacks myself in the past so it’s something I’ll be watching out for as my son gets older. Your son is lucky to have a mum like you to help him cope with it. Anxiety is common in adults so it makes sense that a lot of kids have it too.
Oh thanks Denise, that’s so lovely of you to say. Yes it does make a lot of sense when you think about it doesn’t it xx
As a child and adolescent psychologist in a mental health setting I know just how common anxiety in kids is. And how often it is misunderstood. Particularly in boys. Boys tend to externalise their anxiety more than girls and can sometimes be mistaken as being oppositional. I’m glad you have picked up some tools to help him with his panic symptoms. At least he will now be able to label what he is going through and won’t think that his brain is going out of control. Wish you both all the best.
Thank you so much Sanch. I do hope that the topic becomes less and less misunderstood as we go on, especially with it being so common these days. xx
Thank you for this post Robyn. I do have myself an anxious little boy and while I *know* he’s not misbehaving when he goes off base a bit … I also don’t really know how to deal with it other than to try and gently bring him down (which – upon reading that article you linked to is the equivalent of “trying to talk him out of it”!)
But now I do. Thank you x
Such a pleasure Kelly and isn’t that article fantastic!! I loved it. Hope it helps your little man too xx
So interesting. I think I suffer from this kind of anxiety to be honest but I think it’s easy to misdiagnose in children, as you pointed out. Being delicate I imagine is key to not adding to the anxiety. Glad you’ve found some tactics that are helping x
I think a lot of us probably do without even realising it. I used to have panic attacks after my first child was born, so I know how frightening they can be xx
No anxiety here yet, but my 2.9 year old son was diagnosed as autistic in January and there is a very high incidence of anxiety in relation to ASD, so I will be on the look out. The thought of it breaks my heart a little, I’m glad that you recognised it and have taken appropriate steps to manage it 🙂
How scary for him and you. That’s a lot for an 8 year old to deal with so bravo on looking into it and recognising the signs (awesome mum points right there). Our kids are growing up in such a busy time with so many more pressures, distractions and messages being thrown at them. I feel for them I really do!
So much to learn at being a mum, thanks for the insight, I think it is super important to read books etc that explain feelings and emotions. Thanks x
Actually I think 2 out of my 3 do, not sure to what extent yet but I too have to stop myself from getting cranky. I, like you, have done some research in order to parent them better! x
Thank you for being so open. 1 in 8 children is significant and goes to show how we us parents need to look at how anxiety might in fact affect our families.
A great article, thank you, and thanks for the link to the article too. Relevant to my son (who us 10) so anything I can read about this is greatly appreciated.