children acting out when they are anxious
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Once I became a mom, trying to understand my own child’s emotions, I found myself studying and learning a lot about human psychology. If parents look at their children’s negative behaviour and emotions as nothing more than children being children, it might not be easy to identify the underlying reasons for their actions and reactions. 

Although there are many reasons for children’s negative actions and emotions, this discussion will focus on children’s anxiety and how you could help them cope with it at home.

Anxiety in children is often difficult to detect because it can manifest as anger, whining, or a lack of concentration.

According to an article by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 7 percent of children are diagnosed with anxiety disorders, and more than 3 percent have been diagnosed with depression. Research shows that anxiety and depression in children are on the rise each year, which can lead to long-term mental health issues later on in life.

Parents can help children deal with their anxiety from an early age by using a few simple tactics to teach children how to identify their anxieties, and how to deal with them.  

How to spot your child’s anxious behaviours

1. Whining and making excuses to delay going somewhere or doing something new or uncomfortable

Children may use delay tactics or faking illness to avoid events that provoke anxiety, or express excessive irritation as they experience rising anxiety.

2. Having a hard time sleeping through the night

Children’s built-up anxieties can haunt them at night, whether through nightmares, inability to fall asleep, or waking up frequently.

3. Lack of concentration

Spikes in anxiety decrease our ability to focus, and parents will often notice a drop in children’s powers of concentration whenever they are anxious.

4. Easily angry and explosive

Anger is not only a symptom of frustration and irritation, but can often be a sign of anxiety triggering a fight or flight response. 

How do you help your child cope with anxiety and calm their nerves?

1. Discuss anxiety and what it makes them experience physically

Explain to your child that anxiety is behind that jittery feeling in their heart, rising heartbeat or feelings of uneasiness, even though pinpointing the cause of the anxiety might not always be easy. 

2. Help your child locate the reason why they might be anxious

Start with places, people, and events. Is he or she getting nervous or worried at school, or at soccer practice? Is he or she afraid of talking to a new teacher or new friend? Is he or she terrified of an upcoming presentation or concert? 

3. What do they do or think about when they feel anxious in that situation?

Does he or she get sweaty palms? Pain in their tummy or head? Is it harder to think or concentrate? Does he or she want to hide or run away from particular places or people? Does he or she feel something horrible might happen?

4. Let your child know anxious feelings are normal and everybody feels them

There is no reason to be ashamed of being anxious or nervous about something. It is indeed a healthy reaction from our body, telling us to be cautious about something that is uncomfortable to us. 

5. Anxiety can grow too big and make us imagine false outcomes.

Your child has to understand that if anxiety grows out of control, it can stop him or her from trying new things and interfere with daily activities. Before that happens, they should learn ways to reduce their anxiety.

6. Help your child to identify anxieties before they get too big

Encourage your child to talk about what worries them and what is the worst scenario they can imagine. Explain how much likelihood there is that the worst outcome can come true. Help them to reason whether their fear is logical, or it is just their anxiety taking things too far and scaring them unnecessarily.

7. Help your child practice exercises to lower the tension in their body

  • First, identify the anxiety from the physical and emotional reactions like sweating, discomfort, irritation or rising anger
  • Second, instead of focusing on negative feelings, say out loud what makes them feel uncomfortable
  • Third, focus on their breathing in and out, focussing on how long they can stretch the inhalation and exhalation
  • Last, focusing on doing their best is more important than an ideal outcome.

Your child has to understand that no one gets to have 100 percent perfect days all the time, and unhappy outcomes happen to everyone. As long as your child does the best within their power, that is what matters most.

In summary, children are often unable not only to understand their emotions, but also to express their discomfort in appropriate ways. Especially when children experience anxiety, they tend to act out more than usual as their anxiety grows out of proportion, making it hard for them to be content. 

Share stories from your own day with your children, talk about the things that made you anxious, and show them how to voice their feelings out loud. Explain what you felt and how you dealt with it, no matter what the outcome made you feel. You can set a good example of how you deal with your own anxiety, and illustrate that not only is it okay to feel anxious, but also how bad outcomes are sometimes unavoidable.

More importantly, parents should encourage their children to identify uncomfortable feelings from an early age, and help them to express their feelings out loud. 

It is far more important to praise them for doing their best and accepting dissatisfying outcomes,  than only focusing on achievements and higher grades. 

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