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kids mental health

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Therapist shares the 15 ways kids show anxiety that can be easy to miss

Kids are always trying to communicate, even if that communication isn't clear.

@momtherapist/TikTok

Her cheat sheet became a great conversation starter.

Anxiety, jitters, nervousness…it all kinds of comes with the territory of being human, at least to a certain extent. That goes for kiddos too. Only children have the added challenge of not having all the necessary knowledge and tools to clearly express what they’re feeling on the inside.

But rest assured, kids are expressing themselves, in myriad ways.

According to therapist and mom of three Melissa Griffing, there could be as many as 15 different ways kids might be communicating their anxiety that parents are missing. And people are finding her list illuminating, to say the least.

“Did you know kids talk about anxiety in a whole heck of a bunch of different ways that parents often don’t pick up on? Here are 15 different ways that kids say, ‘I’m feeling worried,’” Griffing says in a now-viral clip posted to her TikTok.

Her first one, “my tummy hurts,” was one several could remember saying as kids. One person even shared, “my stomach hurt a lot when I was a kid. It was 1000% my anxiety.”

But that’s not the only bodily ailment that could reveal something about a child’s mental state. Griffing also listed “my legs hurt” and “my arms hurt” as potential markers of distress, although she added the caveat that these could also be growing pains.

And let’s not forget “I’m not hungry,” “I can’t sleep,” “I need to pee again” or “I think I’m getting sick.” These health related ones can be especially tricky to interpret since, of course, sometimes it really could be related to health issues. That’s why Griffing still encourages going to a doctor first to be sure.

Finally, hear are the last few phrases Griffing mentioned:

“I don’t wanna go to school.”

“I hate you.”

Asking “what-if” questions.

“I don’t know.”

“I just wanna stay with you.”

“Nobody wants to talk to me at school.”

“Nobody likes me.”

“I don’t like it.

@momtherapist Helping your kids manage their own anxiety part one. #therapy #childtherapists #tipsfromatherapist #dallastherapist #parenting #thewellcounseling ♬ original sound - Melissa

…and if these sound like completely mundane, everyday expressions, that’s kind of the point. They can indeed be very easy to miss—and many parents showed their surprise in the comments section.

“Damn my daughter has said every single one of these. Especially the sick thing” one parent wrote.

“By the time you hit number 9 I was in tears,” added another.

Understandably, parents who watched the video were eager for solutions. And Griffing was happy to offer some tips in a few follow-up videos. But really, the basis of all her advice is founded on strengthening emotional intelligence. This goes for parents being able to recognize when kids are displaying these difficult feelings, and being able to help kids develop their own ways of identifying and processing those feelings.

Some children’s books that she recommended for this (for the kiddos) are “What to do When You Worry Too Much” by Dawn Huebner and “There’s a Bully in my Brain” by Kristin O’Rourke.

Lastly, Griffing suggests that for the real “overworriers,” parents can teach them to focus a little less on those intrusive thoughts by dedicating 10-15 minutes a day to “worry time,” where parents can listen to all those worries (no solving, just listening).

And for any concerns that might be shared during the day, parent can gently redirect those thoughts towards the set up “worry time,” and distract with a more comforting or pleasant focus for that moment.

This teaches kids that worrisome thoughts do have a place…just not 24/7. A fantastic skill for anyone to develop, no doubt.

For more parenting tips from Griffing, follow her on her TikTok.