As we transition from the relaxing days of summer into the busy fall schedule and back-to-school season, it is an important time to support children and youth who may be feeling uneasy or apprehensive.

Anxiety is the most common childhood mental illness, and 12 per cent of the population have experienced significant anxiety at some point in their lifetime.

If anxiety is normal and we all have it, how do you know when it is a problem, especially for a child or teen?  When is time for some form of treatment ?

If anxiety seriously interferes with a child’s ability to do everyday tasks, such as attending school or hanging out with friends, or they are struggling to concentrate, focus on school work or sleep at night, they may need additional support.

Kids don't always verbalize their worries. Behaviors vary across ages but signs of a problem may include: 

  • When the feeling of anxiety is persistent – not just a period of time when a big change is happening
  • When the intensity of the child’s responses is outside the norm
  • Younger children may have difficulties sleeping, or may be prone to bedwetting, crying, tantrums, protesting separations and not settling after a short period
  • Older children may have stomach aches, withdrawal, difficulties sleeping, frequent questioning, need for reassurance from caregivers. They may also avoid attending school
  • Teens may show signs of withdrawal from family, friends or activities, spend more time on the computer, alter their sleep patterns, refuse to attend school and/or use drugs or alcohol

 Seven tips to use to support your child at home:

  1. Listen to your child or youth's worries and reflect the feeling before jumping in to problem-solve or give advice
  2. Take your child or youth’s concerns seriously while at the same time expressing confidence in his/her strengths
  3. Recognize that your child’s anxiety may pose challenges to the whole family
  4. Be open to listening to your child or youth (ask and hear versus talk and tell) 
  5. Express empathy by staying calm and reflect back the child’s thoughts and feelings
  6. Figure out strengths – when are things better, what helps, who helps, when is it best to talk, etc.
  7. Resist asking too many “why” questions

If you feel your child or youth’s feelings of anxiety extend beyond the norm and are seriously interfering with the child’s ability to do the tasks of everyday life, consult your family doctor and visit cmho.org to find a children’s mental health centre near you.

Dr. Marjory Phillips is the Director of the Integra Program at Child Development Institute, an accredited children’s mental health agency in Toronto. The Integra Program provides family-centred, evidence-informed direct clinical services to children and youth ages 8 to 18 in Toronto who have been diagnosed with learning disabilities and mental health issues.