Is Your Child’s Misbehavior Linked to Anxiety?
Updated: Mar 31
Children express their anxiety differently than adults. Believe it or not, bad and/or aggressive behavior is one of the ways they sometimes deal with anxiety. Let me tell you a little story (names were changed in this story)
On the playground, Peter tries to play with Martin’s ball, but Martin gets upset and shouts at the little boy, scratching his face before snatching the ball. Martin also becomes aggressive and kicks the ball hard towards the road before rolling on the ground and screaming out loud for his mother. The parents on the playground are stunned and label Martin as “bad” because this is not the first time. However, what they do not understand is that Martin suffers from anxiety, and this causes him to react aggressively and cause tantrums when he needs to feel the security of having his mother around him.
Being aware of what triggers “bad” behavior among children is the easiest way of finding ways to control the problem without compromising the happiness of the child. Anxiety in children is a state of uneasiness, worry, panic, or distress that affects the behavior and the thought patterns and can significantly affect their social and cognitive reactions. A look at the causes of anxiety in children reveals its contribution to bad behavior.
Causes of Anxiety in Children
Separation anxiety from the changes in the environment – For example moving to a new neighborhood
Feelings of insecurity from violence, abuse or trauma from other family members fighting in the household
Learned behavior from other people in the house who are afraid and anxious
Losing something that the child considers valuable.
New development Stages such as adolescence
Fear of academic outcomes
ADHD and learning disabilities
Loss of a loved one
Signs of Anxiety in Children
Child becomes highly irritable, throws tantrums and has major outbursts
Insomnia, difficulties in sleeping or nightmares
Constant fidgeting or visiting the toilet
Poor performance at school
Difficulties in concentration
Negative thought patterns
Poor feeding habits
How Anxiety affects behavior
Children with anxiety will have different thought patterns because of fidgeting and stress, making them react differently to what their peers consider typical situations. Below are some examples:
For example, when a child is afraid of the teacher in the classroom, they may hide when they are not sure of what is happening, or they lack the confidence to participate in the class activities. A child with trauma from abuse and violence or has witnessed the same, learns to solve issues with aggression as a means of finding security in themselves.
Children who are exposed to abuse and violence, tend to use aggressive techniques to prove to their peers that they are not afraid of situations that threaten their comfort or peace.
Anxiety from relocation may cause a child to skip school or become rebellious towards parents for feeling like they are being forced to start over in making friends and getting acquainted with the environment.
Recommendations on dealing with Bad Behavior from Anxiety
Do not avoid things that make the child anxious: While it may seem like a good idea to keep away from the anxiety triggers like avoiding exams, holding a child away from the playground where there is sharing, it is not a good idea. In the long-run, the approach reduces the number of times the child responds with lousy behavior but reinforces the situation by not making it clear that the tantrums and aggressive reactions are wrong.
Affirm the child with positivity: Assuring a child that dealing with the issues that cause them anxiety will reduce the distress and worry over time will increase the confidence and allow the child to have more positive thoughts. The affirmation should, however, be realistic by making it clear that it is okay for a child to fail, but they have opportunities for improvement.
Think things through with the child: Allowing the anxious child to understand how they can react to situations once they arise and the consequences of each action will enable them to make the right choices. Walking through scenarios makes the child understand why it is essential to react in the desired manner, and this reduces the uncertainty of not knowing how to deal with different threatening situations.
The key is knowing what is causing the child to misbehave, guiding them in finding different ways to deal with the cause, and to set boundaries so they understand some behaviors have consequences. Teaching them to express themselves at an early age allows them to be better citizens and to articulate their feelings once they grow into adulthood.
Your Therapy Friend,
Sofia Robirosa is the owner of Infinite Therapeutic Services and is a Perinatal & Relationships Expert. She offers individual, couples, and family counseling to individuals seeking to enhance their relationship with their children and significant other. Her private practice is located in Plantation, FL. She attended Nova Southeastern University for both her Bachelor and Master Degrees in Marriage and Family Therapy and in Business Administration. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, a Perinatal Mental Health Certified Professional, and a Leader in Active Parenting for children and teens. She loves her family, which consists of her husband, daughter and son, and two dogs. Some of her interests outside of work include spending time outdoors, traveling, and dining. Read more about her at: www.infinitetherapeuticservices.com
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