Helping children with anxiety
Changes in children’s lives bring about periods of anxiety which is a perfectly normal response to changing situations. We all feel the stress of going through big changes and learn over the years how to mitigate and cope with the stresses around these new situations. Part of learning how to deal with anxiety for children is to go through it themselves and with guidance many children adjust and learn coping mechanisms for these times in their lives.
For some children, learning to manage stress is not as straightforward and it can be difficult for parents to recognise when anxiety has become a chronic situation for their child. The difference really, is time. General childhood anxieties are more likely to resolve with guidance and reassurance in a relatively short space of time – dependant on the situation. However, when your child has been suffering from anxieties that don’t seem to pass after an event or within a reasonable amount of time, it could mean that your child is struggling to process the situation or dealing with an anxiety disorder and professional support is needed. Contact your GP to discuss where to start to help your child.
Some children may not be able to name what they are feeling and the physical symptoms of anxiety might confuse them. Visit the Young Minds website for a full list of the signs and symptoms that that range from the physical signs, thoughts and feelings and the coping mechanisms that your child might be displaying.
Helping your child manage their anxiety depends on the severity of the situation, the type of anxiety they are dealing with and their age. Younger children might require a number of distraction techniques until they are more comfortable with their situation – for example starting nursery. Some children might require more regular conversation and to talk through how to manage specific situations – for example social situations. A great idea for older children who are reluctant to talk face to face about their concerns is to start a ‘Self Soothe Box’, see the video below.
As a parent, points to consider to help a child manage mild anxiety are:
Diet: from eating healthy meals to avoiding stimulants. Older children in particular may need to reshape their eating habits to help.
Physical exercise: Regular physical exercise can be anything from a walk to a run or a ball game and not necessarily strenuous.
Sleep: Children who are not getting enough good quality sleep might find it difficult to manage their emotions and anxieties during the day due to sleep deprivation.
Mental relaxation: From meditation to regular breathing exercises, mental relaxation and focus can help can help to teach your child ways to ‘take a break’ from the anxieties they are feeling constantly. Learning these techniques can provide useful tools for your child to use during very stressful moments. There are number of apps and youtube videos available for guided meditation help.
Talk: When its possible, find a moment when there won’t be interruptions and let your child describe their situation as best they can. Ideally this is a ‘listening’ moment not a ‘fixing’ one as it is a chance for your child to unburden themselves. The next conversation with your child can work towards to pinpointing the factors that might increase their anxiety, from particular situations, emotions, people or places. With these foundations in place a solution can be sought and you will be in a better position to make a decision about seeking more tools or in some cases professional help.
Young Minds provides some great ideas to help start a conversation with your child.
Activities: Finding different activities that require some concentration can provide a welcome distraction from persistent worries and activities that get your child laughing can be a great outlet. This blog has a great list of fun activities to do with anxious children.
For parents, Young Minds has a helpline available so that you can talk through your child’s particular situation and gain advice on how to proceed. Call 0808 802 5544, from Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm.
If you have any top tips for other parents on how you help your child with everyday anxieties, please share them in the comments below.