“The first step in helping your children deal with anxiety is to help them understand what they’re feeling when they’re feeling it.”
I was eventually diagnosed with anxiety disorder and panic disorder in my 20s, but looking back I was very anxious as a child. Anxiety affected everything from my grades to my friendships. I felt sick every morning before school. I think it’s really important to talk about mental health and what anxiety can look like in children so that other children don’t suffer in silence and without help.
Recognizing and understanding my fears has definitely changed my life for the better. Thanks to therapy, medication, and new coping strategies I’ve learned, I now have far more good days than bad days and can enjoy my life much more.
So when I happened upon a viral TikTok video by therapist Melissa Griffing (@momtherapist) I knew I wanted to learn more about it.
In the video, the 33-year-old child therapist and mother talks about 15 things children say that may indicate fear.
I remember saying all this when I was a kid myself.
The video, which has amassed over a million views, begins by saying, “Did you know that children talk about their fears in different ways that parents often don’t realize?” It then goes on to list 15 different phrases that children use. a signal that they are nervous, worried or anxious.
These are the following expressions:
- • “My stomach hurts.”
• “I do not want to go to school.”
• “I am not hungry.”
• “What if? What if? What if?”
• “I have to go to the bathroom again.”
• “I can t sleep.”
• “I don’t know.”
• “My legs hurt.”
• “I just want to be with you.”
• “No one at school wants to talk to me.”
• “No one likes me.”
• “My hands hurt.”
• “I think I’m going to have to spit.” / “I think I’m going to be sick.”
• “I do not like it.”
In the comments, people talk about how much they recognize their children and younger selves in this video.
“Shit, my daughter has already said every sentence. Especially the spitting/getting sick thing.’
“I definitely had an anxiety disorder as a kid and I didn’t understand it. That is why I always try to help my son when he is anxious. I hope it helps him later.”
“‘My stomach hurts’, ‘I don’t want to go to school’, that’s how I was all my childhood.”
Melissa has made several follow-up videos in which she gives parents some tips on how to help their children understand and manage their fears. On TikTok, she explains, “The first step to helping your kids deal with anxiety is to help them understand what they’re feeling when they’re feeling it — which means acknowledging that your child is anxious.”
He then demonstrates an ability called “Emotion Mirroring” in the clip. He points to one of his sons as an example. The child struggles to open the door, and Melissa gently indicates how she feels by saying, “You’re frustrated.” She then calmly explains how to find a solution and resolve the situation.
Melissa explained the opposite BuzzFeed USA: “Children often do not understand that they are feeling anxious or afraid. Instead, they express themselves as physical symptoms… ‘My stomach hurts’; ,My head hurts’; ‘I don’t want to go’; ‘I have no desire’. These are all ways of avoiding what is causing them anxiety, and they are phrases that I have heard many times from children or parents describing this exact problem.”
She says certain behaviors can also indicate anxiety. “Fear has many symptoms. In young children, the fight or flight response is often triggered. So when a three-year-old, four-year-old or five-year-old is anxious, they will show behaviors such as screaming, crying, kicking, fighting, biting or running away.”
“In older children, there may be avoidance behaviour, physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches, withdrawal and disobedience, rudeness and disrespect. In other cases, the body reacts to fear by freezing. When a child seems lazy, disobedient or hesitant, it may actually be cerebral palsy from worry and stress.”
But the 15 sentences he mentions in his video mean nothing always to anxiety states. As some parents write in the comments, the child might say that he can’t sleep because all he really wants to do is stay up and play video games.
Melissa explains, “Kids are smart and sometimes they know what to say to get their way. This brings up an important point: for anxiety to be clinically diagnosed, these phrases must be accompanied by other symptoms. Parents should watch for irritability, trouble concentrating, persistent muscle tension, restlessness or impatience, and/or trouble sleeping.”
“The thing is, everyone experiences these symptoms from time to time. Crucially, the symptoms appear more often and for longer than their peers and disrupt the child’s life. For example, when a child falls behind in school because they are so anxious they can’t do their homework or even go to school.’
In conclusion, she would like to give advice to parents who recognize their child in her videos. “I think it’s important for parents to remember that the problems that bother children are their biggest problems. You don’t have to worry about rent, politics, caring for someone else, or other things that adults worry about.“
“So when your child comes to you with teenage drama and you dismiss the worry because you know from all your life experience that it’s really not a big deal, remember that he or she hasn’t had this life experience before and it’s for him or her big thing.”
“So listen, be empathetic, recognize their feelings and accompany them. Also remember that all these things you have to worry about as a parent are really stressful! Take time to care for yourself so you have the energy you need to be the patient, understanding, caring, and empathetic parent we all aspire to be.
And if, after reading this article, you’re wondering if you or your child need help learning new stress and anxiety management skills, find someone! If you are not sure who, contact your GP or paediatrician. They can often help and refer you to the right person!”
You can follow Melissa on Tiktok and Instagram.
Parenting often plays a big role in how children cope with anxiety. We recently published an article about 20 problematic educational trends that, in the worst case scenario, can harm children.
This post was translated from English by Megan Liscomb.