Anxiety in children is more common than you might think. As a parent, your help and support can make a huge difference.
This article discusses understanding anxiety in children, how to talk to your child, and practical strategies to support your child with anxiety.
Understanding Anxiety in Children
Anxiety is a term commonly used but can present differently in individuals.
In children, anxiety might manifest as:
● Excessive worry
● Trouble sleeping
● Physical symptoms like stomach aches and headaches.
Recognizing these signs early is crucial for providing timely support.
How to talk to your child about anxiety
Talking to your child about anxiety requires a thoughtful and compassionate approach. Here are some steps to consider when initiating this important conversation:
● Pick the Right Time and Place: Look for a quiet and comfortable place where you and your child can talk without being interrupted. Choose a time when both of you are feeling relaxed and not in a hurry.
● Start with asking open questions: Begin by asking questions that let your child share how they're feeling. You can ask them, 'Is there something on your mind that you want to talk about?’
● Model healthy ways of coping with anxiety: Practice healthy coping strategies like taking slow, deep breaths, being present in the moment, and talking to a trustworthy grown-up.
● Don't Push: Don't force your child to talk about something if they don't want to. Tell them you’re there whenever they're willing.
Unhelpful things parents can do with an anxious child
When supporting an anxious child, it's essential to approach the situation with empathy and sensitivity. Sometimes, as parents, we might unknowingly use approaches that could inadvertently exacerbate their anxiety.
Here are some unhelpful approaches to avoid:
● Minimising Their Feelings: Don’t tell your child to "calm down" or "You're making a big deal out of nothing". This can make your child feel you don't take their feelings or emotions seriously.
● Comparing Them to Others: Your child’s experiences are different from another child. Comparisons to their siblings or other children can often make them feel worse.
● Using Negative Language: Don’t confuse their anxiety with personality traits such as being "shy," or "nervous". It can make them feel their anxiety is a personality trait rather than an aspect of their mental health that they can work through.
● Guessing Why They're Worried: You don't need to make a guess or assume why they could be anxious. It's always preferable to ask about the scenario and pay attention to their answers, even if they are not what you would expect.
● Punishing Them for Avoiding Things: If your child avoids some things because of anxiety, punishing them can make them feel worse. Try to work alongside your child rather than setting rules and expectations.
● Ignoring When Their Body Acts Up: Anxiety can show up as tummy aches or headaches. Ignoring these signs without talking about the anxiety might make them feel even more lost.
Practical Strategies to Help Your Child With Anxiety
Your role as a parent in creating a safe and positive atmosphere is likely to influence how well your child manages their anxiety.
Here are 7 practical strategies to help your child with anxiety in the list below.
Active Listening: Pay close attention when your child talks about their worries. Listen without interrupting and show empathy.
Breathing and Relaxing Techniques: Teach your child techniques to such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.
Stick to a Schedule: Having a routine that stays the same can make your child feel safe. Make sure there's time for relaxing, playing, and sleeping every day.
Do Healthy Stuff: Eating good food, moving around, and getting enough sleep all help how your child feels.
Less Stress, Less Often: You can't control everything that makes your child anxious, but you can reduce potential triggers that cause them distress.
Try Mindfulness and Meditation: Show your child simple ways to be aware of the present or meditate. This can help them relax and understand themselves better.
Seek Professional Help: Talking to a professional mental health expert who has experience in how children feel may be the next step if your child's anxiety is seriously affecting their quality of life.
If your child shows symptoms of anxiety, talk to them openly and encourage them to use healthy coping mechanisms. Remember that your support is essential. It helps your child to gain strength and confidence in working through their mental health difficulties.