Anxiety in children
The back to school buzz for children can be a very exciting time – new teachers, new books, new rooms, seeing old friends and making new friends. For parents too, excitement builds in the hope that some sort of routine and normality will be established back in what was probably a chaotic house over the summer (or maybe that’s just my house?!).
However, unfortunately back to school time can be a much less exciting time for some children and parents. Being nervous and apprehensive when heading back to school is a very normal feeling for children but if these feelings don’t go away or get worse that at it can become a troubling time for children since it can begin to affect their quality of life. If this begins to happen then it is quite likely that your child is suffering from anxiety and needs some help. Of course, because there is no easy ‘fix’ for this many parents can be left feeling helpless and upset.
Below are some tips on how to tell if your child is suffering from anxiety as well as some guidance on what you can do to help them.
How common is anxiety in children?
Anxiety in young people is very common, with up to 1 in 6 young people experiencing anxiety at some time (https://youngminds.org.uk/find-help/conditions/anxiety/#what-is-anxiety?).
Symptoms of anxiety in children
Of course every young person will feel anxious at some point in their life. This is normal. Anxiety appears when the anxious feelings a person experiences get worse or last longer than they should. Some symptoms of anxiety can include:
- Feel depressed or in a low mood
- Have trouble sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of concentration
- Tired and irritable
- Feeling faint, dizziness
- Have a dry mouth
- Recurring headaches or stomach cramps and/or diarrhoea
- Using the toilet more often
- Rapid breathing, shortness of breath or holding their breath
- Muscle tension, shaking or heart palpitations
As well as this children may show the following behaviours:
- Refuse to go to school
- Cling to parents or tantrums (young children)
- Withdraw from friends and/or family
- Seek reassurance often
What to do if you suspect anxiety in your child?
The first step is to chat to your GP or your school psychologist. If a health professional suspects your child has anxiety they will most likely put a treatment plan in place for you to follow with your child.
What can you do? (The following terrific tips have been adapted from an article from Parent Line Australia. You can read more here).
These three things may help you to help your child with anxiety:
- Encourage them to talk about their anxiety – Share the things that as a child you were anxious about and ask them what their biggest worry is. By modelling your own calm acceptance of anxiety you will be helping them to remain calm about theirs.
- Teach your child about anxiety and its purpose– Educate yourself about anxiety and its adaptive role in helping humans survive (flight-fight-freeze). Explain the physical changes in the human body when danger is perceived (sweaty hands, blood to extremities, rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing etc.). By explaining these you are helping to normalise anxiety as well as assisting your child to identify and understand the way their own body reacts when anxious. An excellent bank of resources and information can be found here https://www.cwmt.org.uk/resources.
- Help your child to recognize their anxiety and to develop ways to manage it– Ask your child to sketch their body and mark on it where their anxiety occurs, and is most felt. Teach them ways to work with their anxiety. For example a young child might learn to say: “That’s just ‘Mr Worry’ telling me not to do that. I don’t want to miss out so ‘Mr Worry’ you can just be quiet”. Or a teenager might liken their worrying thoughts to a radio with the volume turned up high, and learn to manage it by turning the volume down. There are a number of free Apps for IOS and Android which you can download and use with young children and adolescents (http://parentingchaos.com/anxiety-apps kids)