By PATRICK MCNAMARA
Many children have anxiety, but it doesn’t look like most people expect it to. Fast talking, nervous pacing, etc. Instead, children can become withdrawn and afraid to try anything new. Children can refuse to join any extracurricular activities, even ones they seemed interested in. They can even stop participating in family activities they previously enjoyed, such as going to restaurants, family fun places, movies and vacations.
Adelle Cadieux, a clinical pediatric psychologist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Michigan, wants parents to know that withdrawing from social situations, an unwillingness to engage in new experiences, and a reluctance to join extracurricular activities are all signs of anxiety — signs parents often miss.
“Your child may not say, ‘I’m anxious,’ but may make statements about not wanting to do something or statements about not liking an activity,” says Cadieux.
Cadieux shared some other common symptoms of anxiety at this age:
- School refusal
- Decrease in school performance
- Increase in behavioral problems at school
- Increased irritability
- Increased defiance, at school and socially
- Changes in sleep
- Poor self-esteem
You know it’s time to intervene, says Cadieux, when your child’s anxiety is interfering with their ability to function at school, at home or socially.
“For example, if getting your child to school each day has become a combat zone, it’s time to intervene,” says Cadieux.
Additionally, if your child seems to be struggling in school, withdrawing from friends or activities, or generally having a difficult time, you should consider intervening.
To help an anxious middle schooler, find an undistracted time (in the car, at dinner, or at bedtime) to talk to your child and ask how they’re feeling. But don’t just talk: Being a good listener is vital.
“Try to avoid dismissing the feeling or telling your child they shouldn’t feel that way,” Cadieux recommends. “Acknowledge their feelings. Maybe even repeat what you heard them say so that your child knows you understand.”
If you have tried everything you can think of, and really aren’t sure what to do, it’s time to reach out for additional help, says Cadieux. You can contact a therapist, your pediatrician, or a school counselor.