The stress of divorce and your new co-parenting relationship can cause children to feel uncertain and anxious. Being able to spot if your child may be suffering from excesive anxiety and to potentially seek treatment is extremely important. We all go through stages in life that are more anxiety ridden than others so how do we know if our child is suffering from anxiety? Children struggling with excessive anxiety may show the following:
- Pessimism and negative thinking patterns such as imagining the worst, over-exaggerating the negatives, rigidity and inflexibility, self-criticism, guilty thoughts, etc.
- Anger, aggression, restlessness, irritability, tantrums, opposition and defiance
- Constant worry about things that might happen or have happened
- Physical complaints such as stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, etc.
- Avoidance behaviors, such as avoiding things or places or refusing to do things or go places
- Sleeping difficulties, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, nightmares, or night terror
- Excessive clinginess and separation anxiety
- Poor memory and concentration
- Withdrawal from activities and family interactions
- Eating disturbances
Overly anxious children can have a negative impact on the family. Highly anxious children can be demanding and can become very emotional if things don’t go the way they want. Parents can become confused about how firm they need to be with limits and if they should give in to the child to avoid emotional outbursts. When a child is very young, normal fears can be accepted. However, as a child grows, fears and anxieties that were considered normal at a younger stage of development may be less appropriate.
Some indications of excessive anxiety in a child include fear that is out of proportion to the actual threat in the environment or anxiety that is excessive for an anticipated future event. Also, children struggling with too much anxiety will often have difficulties in settling back to a normal state. Anxiety becomes a problem when it prevents children from enjoying normal life experiences. For example, when anxiety begins to have an impact on school, friendships, or family, then parents or other adults may need to step in to help the child.
It is important to communicate with your co-parent and share information about how your child’s emotions are in each home and any differences that you sense.