Anxiety is very common in children, and there can be a whole range of reasons why. Statistics currently provided by (Mentalhealth.org) are that between 8-11% of children and adolescents struggle with anxiety which impacts on their quality of life. As parents, we want our children to be happy. So, when we find our children struggling in any way, it is often our natural and well intentioned instinct to jump in and problem solve for them. However, this can be counterproductive. Learning to take a step back, as difficult as that is and by noticing how they manage, can help us to help them.
Although this can be easier said than done.
Signs that your child is anxious may include but are not limited to
Finding it hard to concentrate
Trouble sleeping, or waking in the night with bad dreams
Eating less or more than usual
Becoming angry or irritable quickly
Constantly worrying or having negative thoughts
Feeling tense and fidgety, or using the toilet often
More crying than usual
Complaining of tummy aches and generally feeling unwell
As parents, we model our our ways of coping daily and often without noticing what we are doing, so by becoming more aware of what we do, will help us to help them. When we start modelling ways of how to deal with difficult situations our children will absorb it. We can also help by explaining what anxiety is in a physiological sense. Although, as humans we have evolved in many ways, how brain interprets and our body responds to threats or perceived threats has not. Since the age of the caveman our brain is hard wired to respond to threat as a direct threat to life. e.g( get ready to defend yourself from the tiger.) This triggers our ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response. When our children’s bodies perceive a threat or stressful situation whether this is real or not, our body responds by going into “fight or flight” mode, this can cause sensations, such as, dizziness, an increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and sweaty palms. Adrenaline and other stress hormones enter our bloodstream quickly and prepare us to move quickly. Explaining that this happens to everyone, will help to normalise and desensitise their fear around feeling it. It will also let them know that what they feel is typical and that they are not alone.
When we are emotionally present for our children, listening actively and without judgement, by being there and being aware we create a platform for dialogue. Therefore, empowering children to find there own way of problem solving and coping. Feared situations and environments can be discussed and explored, and ways of managing can be considered. Often, children can look to others for guidance on how to respond in situations particularly if they are unfamiliar. In many cases its parents that children look to, they notice and use these cues to help work out how to manage the situation. If the parent’s response is anxious, the child’s response is likely to be the same some anxiety can be inherited. As parents we can encourage them by, teaching them to approach feared situations. This is because gentle and gradual exposure to fears will lead to desensitisation and reduction of anxiety.
In general, children often lack the language or understanding to talk to us about feelings. So it is most likely to be demonstrated through their behaviour. Trying to read between the lines will help us, what are they indirectly communicating? Being aware and being there means that we need to pay attention to what our children are trying to tell us. Instinctively we may want to problem solve in an attempt to take away their pain this is natural. However it can me more useful for them not to intervene, rather to sit back and be there for them.
Here are some ideas for managing anxiety in your child
Avoid avoiding it’s completely natural to want to avoid what creates difficult feelings. However that tends to keep it going, learning to approach the problem head on help to desensitise it.
Breathing techniques, try You tube for some guided breathing techniques
Action provides an outlet and direction for feelings of unease.
Normalise it by explaining to children that most people experience it at one time or another
CBT techniques are useful when challenging the reality of how we feel. Think about making connections between thoughts, feelings and behaviour.