Meltdowns Matside: Signs of Anxiety in Kids

How many times have you heard your kids say these things when dropping them off for jiu jitsu?:

I feel sick.

My tummy hurts.

I need to pee.

My legs hurt. My arms hurt.

But I don’t want to!

Or meltdowns, lots and lots of meltdowns.

I know you have all dealt with this, because my kids have gone through the same thing. You may be surprised to know that all of these are signs of anxiety in kids.

Meltdowns Mat Side

Signs of anxiety in kids have the most unexpected ways of coming out. In fact, it’s sneaky! It took a long time for me to figure out when my own kids were expressing anxiety.

For a full year, Stella – my tough, athletic Stella – had complete breakdowns at tournaments. Full on crying, mat side right before a match.

It was only recently that I realized that during this time she was also playing soccer. Her coaches wanted her to be on the traveling team at the same time she was also competing in out-of-town tournaments.

That’s a lot of pressure for a kid, don’t you think? Turns out, it was.

Poor Stella just wanted to make her parents and coaches proud and please everyone. Of course there are only so many days in the week, leaving Stella overwhelmed. That’s when the meltdowns started.

The stomachaches, the meltdowns, and going to the bathroom three times in one class can be signs of anxiety in a kid. Assuming you’ve ruled out other causes, this is a child’s way of saying, “I’m anxious.”

It goes without saying that kids feel anxiety just as adults do, only they don’t understand what they’re feeling. They don’t have a word for it, so it comes out in others ways.

I would tell Stella, “I know you’re nervous. You don’t have to do this next time. But this is what you signed up for this time. Today we have to get through this. I’m going to do everything I can to help you” and then I shoved her on the mat.

She didn’t work through it by avoiding the anxiety. She didn’t do it by dropping out of those tournaments or quitting competition altogether. She didn’t do it by me constantly giving her reassurance. She did it by facing her anxiety.

Eventually, Stella stopped having meltdowns, but the only reason she was able to do that was by working through it.

That experience taught me a lot about addressing anxiety in kids.

5 Ways to Parent Anxiety in a Growing Gorilla

You can teach your child to work through their anxiety by doing these things:

  1. Treat it like it’s normal. Don’t be dramatic or blow it out of proportion. The anxiety your child feels is a normal emotion just like anything else. It’s not about preventing the feeling from happening. It’s about teaching them how to deal with it when it does.
  2. Be tender and loving. I get it. You’re frustrated in these situations. You’re impatient with your child and wish they would just get their gi on and go to class. But when that anger or frustration comes out and your child senses it, then it’s only going to make their anxiety worse.Listen to what’s happening. Work with them through the actual steps of what they’re terrified to do. Put on their uniform. Line up for class. Do warm ups. Focus on each step in the process.
  3. Leave the gym during class. Step outside. Go for a walk. Run some errands or grab a cup of coffee. If you’re anxious child sees you, then they’re going to want to lean on you. They need to learn to get through this themselves.
  4. Give them permission to deal. If they feel anxious during class, let them sit out for 2-3 minutes. They can take some deep breaths and watch class. Having this space to work through the anxiety on their own helps them build good habits for when you can’t be there.
  5. Lean on the coach. With their parents, a child wants nothing more than to feel comfort and safety. And that’s natural. It’s a parent’s job to keep their child safe. But if a child leans on their parents too much, then they won’t learn how to take acceptable risks. This is a perfect time to lean on the coach for support. A Growing Gorillas coach is trained to support kids in their messiest moments. It’s a fantastic opportunity, too, for your child to learn to trust and build a relationship with someone who is also their role model.

There is nothing wrong with anxiety in kids. Our jobs as parents and coaches is to teach them how to observe it and respond to it in a healthy way.

Source: “15 Things Kids or Teens Say That Could Mean ‘I’m Anxious’’ – Where They Come From And How to Respond”, by Karen Young, from Hey Sigmund.