Assisting Your Anxious Child

Assisting Your Anxious Child

If you are the parent of an anxious child you are not alone, stats point to 1 in 8 children suffering from anxiety. It is both a stressful and painful experience for parents of anxious children to see their child not cope with things that seem like simple activities for other children. Anxiety is not only a common emotion but a common mental disorder for adults and children.

Anxiety can take on different symptoms in children, some might display clingy behaviour, crying, or having a tantrum when you need to leave them. Others can display extreme shyness wanting to avoid social situations. Worry and fear can be constant emotions for an anxious child, with regular complaints of stomach aches or headaches. Sudden panic attacks, which are frightening, can also be experienced. Because some anxious children are quiet and withdrawn, they may simply be seen as compliant children and their anxiety ignored and not dealt with.

The positive aspect of knowing that you have an anxious child is that anxiety can be managed. You as the parent play a role in facilitating your child's ability to manage their anxiety. Some of the fundamentals that your child needs to know are the following:

  • that everyone feels or experiences anxiety at times - it is normal

  • although the experience is not pleasant, it is not dangerous. The feeling is short-term and will eventually subside

  • anxiety is part of our survival system. It triggers our flight, fight, freeze response when we are faced with danger. The problem occurs when we feel anxious but there is an absence of threat or danger

  • all of us, including children, experience anxiety in the same way - physically: feel it in our bodies in various ways; mentally: the disturbing thoughts we have; behaviourally: the actions our anxiety drives us to

It is necessary to remember that when your child is experiencing an anxiety attack, trying to rationalise why they are anxious and why they do not need to be is seldom effective. It is best to get them to focus on their breathing first, to breath slower and in a regulated  way - this can reverse the nervous system response. A child feeling anxiety can feel that their heart is beating fast, hold their breath or feel shortness of breath, feel hot or cold, tremble or shake, feel numbness or tingling, feel chest pain, or a pressure in their chest, experience dizziness or be lightheaded, have what feels like a lump in their throat or even a sensation of choking.

Do not ignore the fact that your child is anxious, avoidance is an ineffective coping mechanism when dealing with anxiety. Talk to your child about their anxiety. It can be helpful to create a "worry" character with your child and give it a name. Discuss ways of defeating the control this character seems to have over your child. This idea of personifying the worry or anxiety your child feels can extend to stuffed animal or even role-playing at home. In doing so you help demystify this scary physical response children experience. It can reactivate logical thinking, and it is a useful tool for a child to used when you are not present and they are on their own.

Being patient and not contributing to your child's anxiety response is vitally important, recognise that their reaction is not voluntary and is a scary experience for them. As you go about implementing any of the above realise that transformation is often slow and you child learning to manage their anxiety will take time, encourage them through the process.