Children, Teens, and the Anxiety Bully

Earworm: Diarrhea diarrhea you can tell by the smell that you’re not feeling well. I was walking down the lane and I had a might-y pain diarrhea, diarrhea. Then I climbed on up a tree and it trickled down my knee. diarrhea, diarrhea… (A diddy my brothers sang as children.)

Anxiety disorders often make their first appearance around the age of fourteen. However most of us with an anxiety disorder can remember feelings of anxiety at a younger age; for most children it remains hidden. Today there is a lot of information about bullying from other children, but there is also a type of hidden bully found in brain disorders like anxiety and OCD.

For the most part kids hide it simply because they do not have the language to discuss it.  

I did not know that I had a disorder until my 30s; I thought my experience was normal because I never heard it talked about in a way that sounded familiar to my own inner experience. 

Because children do not talk about it, parents may not notice signs like excessive worry, trouble sleeping, restlessness, fatigue, trouble concentrating and irritability as a problem other than an average teenager’s default mode.


The Checklist

The following check list can help you observe your child and recognize anxiety. If you recognize with certainty at least five of those traits, you need to help your child:

  • Pessimism and negative thinking patterns such as imagining the worst (Dad is going to have a car accident, my school peers are going to hurt me)
  • Constant worry about things that might happen or have happened
  • Over-exaggerating the negatives (this bad thing ALWAYS happens to me)
  • Rigidity and inflexibility, self-criticism, guilty thoughts, etc. (I will never be able to do that, I will never know how to…)
  • Anger
  • Aggression (sometimes discreet, like quietly pushing a younger sibling, breaking someone’s belonging on purpose)
  • Restlessness, irritability, tantrums
  • Opposition and defiance
  • Crying
  • Physical complaints such as stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, etc.
  • Avoidance behaviors, such as avoiding things or places or refusing to do things or go places
  • Sleeping difficulties, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, nightmares, or night terror
  • Perfectionism (tearing off a drawing to redo it, scratching a line or a word till it can’t be seen to rewrite it)
  • Excessive clinginess and separation anxiety(can show in acting out to force the parent to cancel an appointment to stay home)
  • Procrastination (will start later, will finish in a moment…)
  • Poor memory and concentration
  • Withdrawal from activities and family interactions
  • Eating disturbances (hides to eat snacks, shows sudden aversions to some foods…)


Artist: Natalie Dee

I remember trying to seek reassurance or wanting to sleep next to my mother and her rejecting me. I remember my mother talking about her own problems with anxiety and I did not understand. So even though we both had anxiety we did not understand each other because it manifested in different ways.  She would talk about feeling anxious and used the words “anxiety” and “panic” to describe it. But what I was feeling was fear.

Our family, which is already primed genetically toward anxiety disorders, endured several family tragedies which set off a whirlwind of dysfunction through the next generations and I will write about some of these aspects later.

The loss of a loved one, divorcing parents, and/or major moves or transitions, are common catalysts of anxiety. Also children who are exposed to violence at an early age, or who endured abuse are more vulnerable to anxiety. Growing up in a family which views the world as dangerous and scary can “teach” a child to be fearful or fear the worst. Our family had all of these components.

Anxiety disorders tend to run in families but that does not mean you are destined to develop the disorder part of anxiety.  There is help available and you can learn better ways to cope with your fear. 


Helping Your Child Cope

The best way to help your child is to acknowledge the problem in a supportive, nonjudgmental way. Talk openly about your child’s symptoms and really try to understand how they are affecting everyday life. It can also help to talk to other adults in your child’s life, such as teachers and coaches.

Be patient and positive as your child undergoes treatment and finds new ways to cope. Sometimes it helps to talk to your child about your own stresses and how you’ve been able to overcome them. Remind your child that letting go of worry allows space for more happiness and fun.

Does any of this sound like your child or teen?

  • clinging, crying, and/or tantrums when you separate

  • excessive shyness, avoiding social situations

  • constant worry

  • avoiding situations or places because of fears

  • complaints of frequent stomachaches or headaches

  • experiencing sudden and frequent panic attacks

IMPORTANT: Rapid onset of OCD in children and adolescents may be caused by a syndrome connected to Group A streptococcal infections (PANDAS) or caused by immunologic reactions to other pathogens (PANS).

For the teenagers who may have stumbled onto this blog, talk about it!  You will be amazed at how many others share your concerns.  Please share this blog.


Genetics of OCD

Talk to your Child


2 thoughts on “Children, Teens, and the Anxiety Bully

  1. Janet (ocdtalk) January 18, 2015 / 12:43 pm

    Really great, comprehensive, post………….it is sure to help many!


    • m.mazur January 19, 2015 / 6:16 pm

      Thanks Janet. I like your site.


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