This mother is born into a harsh world, just as her child left the protection of the womb, she too is unprotected from the elements of the world. Advice and opinions, all unsolicited and many times from people who have outdated information (older mothers), or no experience (sorry, guys, but there’s something about mom life), or absolutely no right (the 17 year old, childless cashier at Walmart). These people make us anxious and overly cautious. We want to do right by our children… and these strangers. We want people to know we are great mothers.
And for us, anxiety is real. We can voice it.
But anxiety in children is so very different. After [almost] 7 years, I have learned what it looks like and sounds like. And it’s not what you would always think. Anxiety in children can look like an illness, sound like whining and laziness, and feel annoying.
And that is something you have to come to terms with. Because for a child, anxiety is crippling.
Anxiety in children looks and sounds like this:
- All the writing utensils are chewed. Destroyed. Pens are chewed so badly the ink no longer runs. The paint chips off pencils and erasers are chewed to the metal.
- Skin, especially on the face, is pulled. Red. Chapped. Bleeding. The insides of mouths are chewed and bleeding. Lips are pulled and scabbed and bloody through the night. Even the gums of the mouth are dug into with tiny nails searching for an outlet. Nail biting. Right down to the skin, sometimes going into the skin. Then down to the cuticles. The fingers bleed and the skin gets inflamed and infected, but the biting continues.
- None of the listening and all the apologizing. Being completely zoned out beyond control and then feeling intense shame for it. Spacing out. Not just not listening… not even aware you’re in the room. Lost in thought.
- I’M FINE. Always I’m fine. When you watch your child lose themselves, their joy, their happiness drains from their body… they are fine. They aren’t. But they want to believe they are. And they don’t want to bother you because they’re not.
- They stop trying. Failure is scary AF, right? For anyone. In this age-range, it is so important to recognize anxiety (and diagnose ADHD), because the children who miss their diagnosis, who go through life not just being afraid of failure but being demolished by the mere thought of it, will carry this forever.
- Tired. Physically. Mentally. They are tired, but they cannot sleep. They cannot wake up when they do sleep.
- Explosive emotions. Often quick bursts of excitement (not to be confused with happiness)- because the moment they are excited is also the moment EVERYTHING that could go wrong starts going through their minds and then a burst of anger or intense sadness appears. Often these emotions are fleeting- not to be confused with mania or bipolar, where these behaviors can be indicators, when shown over a more extended period of time with less control.
- Stomach and headaches. These are the most common aches, though other things, like ankle pain, can show up if physical activity is something that triggers anxiety.
- Demanding to be alone. Because sometimes that’s just easier than being with other people. Even the ones who love them the most because they simply don’t always feel loved, or lovable.
- It’s my fault, I’m sorry. Eyes downward, not understanding a situation… they just want out. And they will tell you what you want to hear. They are sorry. Sorry they didn’t/can’t/won’t…
- I’M HOT! This has been hard because we also have a medical issue where running hot is a real issue, but when hearing I’m hot while skating in a freezing arena, doing new things in a class with much bigger kids… the heat is the reaction of the body pre-panic attack.
- Are you laughing at me? Often wondering if being laughed with or at, almost always sure it’s at.
- Constant movement. ADHD and anxiety are the perfect recipe for not being able to be still. Bouncing leg, sitting on feet, tapping, clicking the tongue.
- Forgetful and afraid. Not remembering what was just asked, needing more than one reminder, then feeling fear and shame at “not getting it.” Overwhelmed with not comprehending because the ADHD mind is never not working, and the anxiety is never completely quiet.
- I need help/I can’t do this/I don’t know how. Even things done 100 times before seem to be insurmountable tasks.
- TALKING. Just blathering and making noise. This is a combination of being nervous and ADHD coming to a head. Meeting at that point of sheer anxiety and lack of control.
- Hair pulling, cutting. Yes, kids experiment with cutting. Excessive pulling and cutting indicates something more, especially after being reprimanded.
- Needing out. Too many people. Too loud.
- Shutdown and quiet. Like you can’t get in that little mind. You can’t break through to ask what’s going on. They are just not them for a minute and you can’t get them back.
- I love you. I love you. Not just needing reassurance about being loved, but telling those around them repeatedly they love them. It’s more than wanting to know if they are loved and that you are loved, but needing to know. Like maybe you forgot, or will forget.