Anxiety in children.
Written by Mrs Andrea Davis, Family Adviser.
At some point in their childhood, all children will feel anxious about something and this is a completely normal part of growing up along with taking ‘safe risks’ to develop their independence and social skills. There may be common anxiety triggers such as starting a new hobby or changes like meeting a new teacher, as well as more specific ones such as a parent becoming ill or a newly established fear. Children that have lived through an adverse childhood experience, for example the death of a close relative, a traffic accident, or an acrimonious parental separation may show increased signs of anxiety which may have escalated rapidly.
Most children will be able to share worries with a trusted adult which will help them reason through their thoughts and this, along with time and life experience will help lessen the anxiety.
Anxiety can become more of a problem when it stops children from attending school, socialising or joining in with activities they want to participate in.
There are signs to be aware of if your child is becoming over-anxious, such as;
*Sleeping disturbances – trouble getting to sleep, waking often, needing to be close to an adult,
wetting the bed, bad dreams.
*Mood changes – irritable, clingy, crying, temper tantrums, overly shy, angry.
*Lacking confidence in everyday activities
*Reluctance to socialise with friends or family members.
*Withdraw from everyday situations and reduction in general conversation.
*Often feeling ill or having a headache / tummy ache.
*Over-eating or not eating enough.
Parents, carers and school staff can all help support children with anxious behaviours. Be careful not to dismiss or minimise a child’s anxiety – as it will seem very real to them.
Distraction and positive language are useful strategies initially, along with clear and consistent
expectations to maintain normality of routines will all help your child feel settled. For example;
if your child has always visited the supermarket with you but has now become anxious about
doing so, you can talk it through beforehand, giving your child options, such as would they like
to push a trolley, help choose some favourite groceries, use the self-service tills etc. A
conversation about why you need to visit the shop, to buy ingredients to cook a favourite meal,
may help de-escalate the anxiety and change your child’s thought process to a more
manageable outcome. Discussing keeping the visit as short as you can and during a quiet
period, will help model to your child how to think about additional strategies to overcome their
anxiety in a variety of settings, rather than avoiding the issue completely. Small, manageable
steps are the most successful along with open, honest dialogue.
Always try to talk with your child when they are feeling calm, rather than waiting until they are
at a heightened state, as they will be more receptive to suggestions. Encourage them to come
up with their own ideas of what may help; as this will be a useful life skill for them to practise. Try and remain calm yourself as your child will pick up if you are showing them you are worried.
Ideas to help calm an anxious child.
Slowing your child’s breathing down will definitely help calm a heart rate, so any form of quiet
meditation exercises will be beneficial and can be done in any place and at any time.
Suggest they think of a favourite place they like to visit and encourage them to imagine they are
‘walking along the beach’ or ‘playing in the park.’
Work through a 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, strategy, encourage your child to think of:
5 things your child can see
4 things your child can hear
3 things your child can feel
2 things your child can smell
1 thing your child can taste – (Can be their tongue/teeth!)
This will help shift their focus from thinking about their worry to being in the present moment and feeling grounded.
Blow some bubbles and watch them float away on the wind.
Plant some bulbs or a shrub in a place that you will be able to watch it grow.
Plan a favourite meal – set the table, write a menu and place cards, make it an occasion.
Listen to your favourite music – have a dance with a family member.
Make or buy a new frame for your favourite photograph, place it somewhere where you can see it often.
Write a letter or a poem or a song. Theme it to fit in with the day’s weather, or season to give it a focus.
Keep a diary – this can be a really good strategy for emptying their mind and reflecting on their day. Drawing a picture or writing down about how they felt at different parts of the day can help children understand that not a whole day will have been a negative experience.
Any form of sport – especially a repetitive exercise, such as jumping on a trampoline can be inwardly calming and grounding for a child.
A mindfulness colouring / sketching book can be a great resource that can travel around with your child to provide a consistent stable activity.
If you have tried all the above ideas and your child is still showing anxious behaviours, please come and talk to school staff; either your class teacher or Mrs Andrea Davis, Family Adviser. Alternatively, you can seek support from your GP. Please always try to discuss your child’s behaviour with a professional without them over-hearing in the first instance, so a supportive plan can be openly discussed.
Resources that can help with childhood anxiety:
Sitting Still Like a Frog, Activity Book. 75 Mindfulness Games for Children.
By Eline Snel.
What to do when you worry too much. A kid’s guide to overcoming anxiety.
What to do when you dread your bed. A kid’s guide to overcoming problems
Both by Dawn Huebner.
Helping Children Who Are Anxious or Obsessional.
Helping Children Who Bottle Up Their Feelings.
Both by Margot Sunderland.
Mindful Kids. 50 Mindfulness Activities for Kindness Focus and Calm.
By Whitney Stewart and Mina Braun.
CBT Workbook for Kids. 40 exercises and activities to help children overcome
anxieties and face their fears at home, school and out in the world.
By Heather Davidson
There are also a wide range of Apps you can download to help your child feel calm, some of these are completely free or have a free trial period;
Calm for Kids
Headspace for Kids
Stop, Breathe and Think for Kids
Sleep Meditation for Kids.
Mindfulness for Children
www.childline/managing your anxiety
Free Phone Helpline for Parents: Young Minds; 0808 802 5544 (Mondays to Fridays 9.30am – 4pm)