Anxiety in Children
How to help and support your child
It can be normal for children to feel anxious and worried at different times of their lives - such as starting school, moving house or changes in family life. But for some children, their anxiety can effect their behaviour and thoughts on a daily basis, which can then interfere with school, home and friendships.
There is a great deal of advice, information and support via the internet and books. If you need further help and have concerns regarding your child contact your GP and let the school know so we can help and support you.
Symptoms of anxiety in children
- finding it hard to concentrate
- struggling to sleep or waking with bad dreams
- getting irritable or angry quickly and possible being out of control during outbursts
- worrying constantly
- having negative thoughts
- feeling tense and fidgety
- always crying
- being clingy
- complaining of tummy aches or feeling unwell
What can cause anxiety in children
Some children can naturally be more anxious and find stress more difficult to cope with. Children can also pick up anxious behaviour from being around anxious people.
Anxiety can also develop in children after stressful events, such as:
- moving house or school frequently
- issues at home
- school related issues
- death of relative or friend
- being seriously ill or in an accident
How You Can Help
1. You cannot eliminate your child's anxiety, but you can teach them skills to help them manage it.
One of the best ways to help children overcome their anxiety is not to remove the triggers, but to help children to learn to tolerate their anxiety and cope as well as they can, even when anxious. As the more the child is exposed to the experience that causing the anxiety, the anxiety will decrease over time. The child can be helped through high anxiety, by using different breathing techniques and calming methods.
2. Try not to avoid things just because your child is anxious.
Even though helping a child avoid things they are afraid of will make them feel better in the short term, it will only reinforce the anxiety over time, as they are not being exposed to it. The child will learn the coping mechanism of being removed from the situation is the correct one, and the child may them repeat the behaviour.
3. Try to keep the anticipatory period short.
The hardest time to cope with anxiety is really before we do it, so try to eliminate or reduce the anticipatory period. Don't tell your child their have a doctor's appointment two hours before, if their anxiety to linked it to, keep the anxiety period to a minimum.
4. Express positive but realistic expectations.
Don't promise that a child's fears are unrealistic, they won't fail a test or necessarily enjoy the party. But show you have confidence that they are going to be ok and they will manage the situation and their anxiety levels will drop over time. This shows the child that your expectations are realistic and they can handle different situations over time.
5. Don't ask leading questions.
Encourage your child to talk about their feelings, but try not to ask leading questions. Ask open-ended questions: 'How are you feeling about the school trip?' rather than 'Are you anxious about the school trip?'
6. Don't reinforce the child's fears.
Think about your tone and voice and body language you are using, as you may unintentionally send a message that the child should be worried.
7. Encourage your child to tolerate their anxiety.
Let your child know you understand how hard it is for them to tolerate their anxiety in order for them to do what they want or need to do. It is about encouraging the child to engage in life and to do what they want or need to do and let their anxiety take its natural cycle. The more the child is exposed to the activity that caused their stress the more their anxiety will drop although it may never go completely and it will take time.
8. Think things through with the child.
It may be helpful to create a plan for what may happen if a child's fear came true. An example, if your child is anxious about separating from you and you were running late collecting them. Talk through what would happen and create a plan with them, this will help build your child's confidence.
9. Try to show healthy ways of handling your anxiety.
One of best ways to help children cope with their anxiety is by letting them see how you cope when feeling anxious. They will pick up conversations you may have complaining you can't deal with your stress and anxiety. Letting children see how you manage your anxiety, tolerate it, and feel good about getting through it.
The mental health and emotional well-being website for children and young people in South Gloucestershire. Includes information for parents/carers. www.mindyou.org.uk