Anxiety in Boys Looks Different Than You Might Think — Learn the Surprising Signs

Emily Edlynn, Ph.D.
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Good Housekeeping

Emily Edlynn, Ph.D. - a child psychologist as well as a mom of a son and two daughters - answers your most frequently asked questions about raising boys.

Q: How do I recognize anxiety in my son - and what can I do about it?

A: Anxiety is really tricky to spot sometimes - especially in younger kids, and in boys who tend to be more physically active than girls. In fact, anxiety can cause kids to have problems paying attention or sitting still, and that might lead to an ADHD diagnosis when anxiety was the problem all along.

With any mental health symptoms, age is really important in considering whether to be concerned, since what is developmentally “normal” changes over time. The key to recognizing anxiety is that it often includes a lot of physical signs such as restlessness, recurring complaints of headaches or stomachaches, looking “wired” or hyperactive, and problems sleeping.

With boys, however, anxiety can come out in even more surprising ways through oppositional and defiant behavior. If they feel anxious about going to soccer practice, they might refuse to put on their shoes; it’s not because they want to be difficult, it’s because they act out their anxiety instead of talking about it. Unfortunately, this behavior usually leads us to respond with a firmer stance, which usually doesn’t work when anxiety is the root of the problem.

If you have a suspicion anxiety might be at play for your son, helping him name the real problem is the first step to actually working through it. Let him realize that he's being anxious, and that's why he doesn't want to put on his shoes. The other sneaky part about anxiety is it actually grows stronger the more you give into it, so it’s also important to help your son face what he’s trying to avoid.

The most critical thing for you to know as a parent if your child shows anxiety, is that you are a huge part of the solution. They look to you for calm and confidence, and you can work with them on learning and using tricks to manage the anxiety (talking about it, using deep breaths to help the body, etc.). If you feel like your son’s anxiety is really getting in the way of his life, make an appointment to see a a child therapist trained in anxiety.

For more of Dr. Edlynn's answers about raising boys, check out our FAQ here.

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