"I can't go to school. One of the kids was sick yesterday and I might throw up."
"You're going out to dinner? Where are you going? When will you be home? Who is babysitting? I don't think I can do it. You can't go!"
"I can't go to the sleepover."
"I can't leave for school yet. My hair doesn't look perfect."
"I can't play soccer!"
Do you hear the common word in each of these sentences? Can't. Whether it's about school, sports, academics, or social life, anxiety is often debilitating for kids. It moves past the normal childhood and adolescent fears and becomes crippling, to the point where they are unable (please read that carefully—unable, not unwilling) to participate in any given activity that other kids enjoy.
Anxiety is the most predominant mental-health problem among children and adolescents today. It is also the most treatable. As a counselor with 20 years of experience working with children and teens, I undoubtedly agree. In the last three years, I have seen a dramatic increase in the number of children of all ages who walk through my doors struggling with anxiety.
So what does anxiety look like? It looks different in every child. It may look like a toddler-age girl who rages at home, simply because she is overwhelmed and fearful and isn't yet able to express her emotions. It may look like a school-age boy who worries constantly when you're away. It could look like a fourth-grade girl who cries every morning before school. Teenagers may wash their hands constantly, obsess over college and all grades leading up to that decision, feel that nothing they do measures up. Anxiety, from an emotional standpoint, can look like withdrawal, sadness, depression, obsessive fears, or even anger in a child or teenager.1