Nip Them In The Bud: 6 Anxiety Issues That Stunt Kids’ Emotional, Intellectual, & Social Growth

Posted: March 25, 2018

As adults in their lives, parents or teachers, being aware of and ready to deal with anxiety issues in children is essential for their emotional and intellectual growth.

Have you ever wondered how a three or four year old feels coming out of a secure home into a strange world, surrounded by unfamiliar faces and voices, where the child is expected to spend what we may call ‘quality time’ in?

Moving to a new environment

A child finds it difficult to accept the sudden separation and shift in command from Parents to School – authorities, teachers and care givers. How many of us remember seeing our young make umpteen excuses to avoid going to school so that they can escape the ritual of doing the same old reading and writing practices?

Many of them complain of it being boring. Indeed it is a monotonous task to write a single letter over and over again until you fill a page or two, worse still if the child has already mastered the knack of forming the letter and definitely doesn’t need to rewrite it multiple times in school or as a reinforcement in the form of homework. Thanks to our educational system that a class of thirty or more with different capabilities and needs are all fed with the same spoon in the name of syllabus, uniformity and a day at class.

Stress on kids

But then again is this the only reason why a child wouldn’t want to go to school? Or is it possible that these little kids too could be acquainted with something called ‘stress’? I have seen people frown at the idea of little ones facing stress, many of them laughed it off in the most unbelievable way.

Stress is the inability to meet with physical as well as mental demands in life. People often connect stress to being an outcome of job related problems, bill payments, or relationship failures. As compared to that, they feel that a child’s life is joyful and carefree without any of these to worry about.

Getting educated as a teacher

A few years back if you had asked me my opinion on the same, I might have reacted no better; I was then under a similar misconception. The word stress was not so popularly used or heard of, specially not with kids in view.

It was only when I started to teach the younger ones that I could relate to their problems, and their frustration of not being given the importance they deserved. I began probing a bit into child psychology through whatever means I could afford, old books, articles, true stories and lectures on the net, and I was able to understand that stress has nothing to do with age or responsibilities but rather sustained on human emotions at every level for its survival.

What kids experience

It is natural and instinctive for a child to interact with it’s environment in the process of growing up with a healthy mind and body. Gone are the days when families were close knit social hubs fostering positivity, leaving siblings free to play and interact together, giving plenty of scope for self-expression.

Along with the changes in life style and social conditions, children have lost their freedom to isolated apartment cells that lead to gadget addiction and dependency. The child feels stuck in a stage of co-dependence (dependent on parents) instead of progressing to counter dependence (peer group dependency)  in order to move on to the stage of independency.

Kids ‘under tension’!

Lack of self expression surpasses natural feelings of anger, sorrow and loneliness which sometimes could have drastic side effects. Starting with mild to moderate signs which we ofter overlook, these signs are signals to a building up storm that could end up in self harm or even suicide. When children feel they can take no more and are unable to comprehend or escape a demanding situation they lose control over their reasoning abilities and actions.

One morning Shubhangi, a six year old adorably cute cheerful little girl held her head and sat in her chair just before her maths period. I watched her with great curiosity while she raised her eyebrows, blew her thick black fringe off her forehead with a strong puff of air and answered her friend who asked her for a pencil. “Uff ! don’t disturb me… I’m already in a lot of tension!”

Hearing the word tension coming from a small child was strange as normally we don’t hear kids talk like that. The other kids in the class started to laugh as they spilled the beans of how Shubhangi didn’t like maths, and wilfully threw her maths copy out of the window of the van she travelled to school in.

What psychologists say

Psychologists have referred to stress among children as a serious issue and categorised it as Anxiety and Panic Disorders such disorders hamper a child’s progress and have  multiple implications involved. it’s very important that we as adults are aware enough to observe and recognise the problems in time.

Though all these seem so interrelated and challenging to accept. We can still succeed in providing proper help by finding out the root cause.

In my quest to learn more about different ways to help children who suffer from stress and anxiety during their kindergarten days, I came across many such  hurdles and blockades to a child’s happiness. there are a few that are a must for every parent and teacher to be aware of while dealing with a child.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

If a child has a generalized anxiety disorder, the child worries more than usual about peer group adjustments, grades, family problems and competitions.  children end up being hard on themselves and always wanting the approval of others while striving for perfection.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

For most children between a few months to three years it is quite normal to feel some separation issues when  parents go out of sight. The anxiety is usually expressed by crying or throwing tantrums which subsides once they are distracted or engaged in activities of their choice. it commonly happens on the first day of school and slowly wears off but if it persists for a longer period or till an older age, then the child is surely among those 4 percent of kids varying between the age group of seven to nine years who find it hard to deal with excessive anxiety once separated from home or loved ones

If the child is slightly older and still unable to be away from parents, or takes longer to calm down after being separated compared to other children, then the problem could be a separation anxiety disorder. Children who suffer from this disorder worry about bad things happening to their parents while they are away, this feeling reverberates fear within them leaving them feeling helpless, vulnerable and extremely homesick. Here one of the alarming symptom could be a continuous refusal to go to school.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Or we can call it a social phobia, developed at some point of time. This causes the child to harbour an intense fear of any kind of exposure to social situations such as expressing themselves among peers or school activities. it can drastically affect a child’s performance at school, and the ability to socialise in order to develop and maintain relationships .

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Children with PTSD develop intense fear and anxiety after a traumatic or life threatening experience and become emotionally numb. They start to avoid people and places, get easily annoyed and sad. Children can overcome PTSD’s if they receive proper help and usually life gets back to normal in a short while.

Selective Mutism

As teachers we often hear parents state that their little ones are able to read well and also sing songs and recite nursery rhymes without any difficulty at home, and wonder what happens to them in school when informed about their child’s slow progress by the teacher. Teachers usually take it as a far-fetched tale by the proud parents and discard it without a thought.

Selective mutism is like an On and Off switch in a child’s brain that a child uses to select where to speak and where not to. Children with selective mutism refuse to talk when expected or necessary to. If they are forced to do so, they tend to stand motionless without any expression, turn or nod their heads, twirl their hair or clothes, bite their nails or suck on their thumb. They try their level best to avoid eye contact and withdraw from the situation at the earliest to avoid talking. On the contrary, they are very talkative and fun loving in the company of those who they are comfortable with.

Panic Disorder

These anxiety attacks come on suddenly and have no genuine reason. Knowledge of the child’s past medical history helps to deal with this kind of disorder.

Dealing with these anxiety issues in children

A child that seems snobbish, rude and always complaining could actually be a child that is in desperate need of love, attention and help to master the beginning stage of self discipline.

Early diagnosis

If left unchecked, all these problems only build up over time and situations, due to multiple factors. They need to be diagnosed and addressed at the earliest, or else they could have drastic effects in the later years of a person’s life hampering his or her personality or functioning.

Validating children’s feelings

Children fear being ignored or judged. All they want is that their feelings should be validated. In fact, that’s what every individual looks forward to. But for children this feeling is more intense, and can be seen in everything they say and do. They tend to feel unwanted if their emotional needs are not met with. Soon they start to develop a sense of inferiority and withdraw themselves by closing in on activities or avoid expressing themselves freely, and get branded as dull.

Taking care of a child’s IQ intelligent quotient is not enough for a child to bloom. We have to infuse the extra effort of providing for a child ‘s EQ emotional quotient too.

I remember witnessing a seminar on child psychology a decade ago where the resource person happened to say something which makes complete sense to me now. His words were, “A child will never remember you for what you taught him but he will always remember you for how you made him feel while you taught him.” I have heard variations of this a couple of times ever since, and every time it only reinforces the fact that there are a good many people out there who have spent years of their lives trying to educate the already conditioned minds of adults “To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower” as mentioned in the Auguries of Innocence by William Blake.

The teacher-student relationship

I can tell you it’s an amazing feeling when the kids you lovingly hugged and taught compassion, come back all grown up and bestow you with the same intensity and warmth you once showered on them.

Observing children over the years from batch to batch in my seventeen years of  dealing with kindergarten kids, I found that a teacher student relationship is imperative and should be worked on and built upon much before any learning can ever take place. But the only possibility to achieve this is when a child allows you to enter his or her comfort zone.

This comfort zone is let’s say two feet from the child if they don’t trust you. If you try to enter their comfort circle, they start to react by getting nervous, clamming up, or at the very extreme bursting into tears, which is a clean indication that you are not welcome. Though children can be very selective and some may often take a little longer to trust in you. It shouldn’t serve as a reason to feel disappointed, or compelled to take on an authoritarian outlook which may have a 101% chance of meeting success in getting a child to do what you want it to do. But at what cost? Such displays of insensitivity damages the integrity, self-respect and personal worth of a child.

Parents and teachers must wear their expertise as an invisible garment in order to be an effective facilitator and an amazing mentor.

Getting the child’s trust

Persistence and love are the only two tools that work best to gain the key to a child’s quality world, where they set you on a high position and bonds with a perfect understanding. Teaching them from there on is a piece of cake as they are open to learning, and willing to rectify their shortcomings in the most positive manner.

Children tend to see their teacher as a role model no matter where or which background they belong to. they can be easily taught the importance of good manners and moral values in their daily life if a teacher puts them into good use herself. corporal punishment or any kind of violence should be avoided no matter what.  As children have the capability to unconsciously imbibe negative as well as positive behaviour at a quick pace.

Adults need to be very careful with what they speak and how they behave in front of the little ones as children’s way of interpretation is much different to that of an adult they tend to break up chunks of information into fragments of familiarity and reorganise it in a non-sequential manner to fit their own understanding, any complicated situations like criticising others, using derogatory sentences, deliberate comparison or harsh emotional outbursts can trigger behavioural problems among children.

With a little care and understanding we can make a world of difference in the lives of our little ones. What we sometimes fail to understand is that every child is unique and special in their own way and ever deserving acceptance, trust and respect. Children are not an engineered toy working on gears that can be wound up to our expectations, nor are they shaped in the same mould or programmed in the same way as other children. Children should be encouraged to point out a mistake or suggest different possibilities of solving a problem. Their views and opinions should be considered; often it’s the insignificant little ones that come up with the most logical solutions.

Celebrating this uniqueness will help children grow in knowledge along with togetherness and compassion.

Header image is a still from the movie Taare Zameen Par

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