Anxiety doesn’t just affect adults – children and young people are also vulnerable to feelings of worry or unease. But if the anxiety starts to influence daily life and mental well-being, they may need some help to deal with and overcome it.
What is scaring my children?
Children can get anxious about different things at different ages, and many of these worries are a natural part of growing up. For example, babies and toddlers can become clingy and cry when they are separated from their parents, while young school-going children be worried when starting a new school or before exams.
Young children can also develop specific fears or phobias. Among those that most commonly occur during early childhood are fear of animals or insects, storms, heights, blood or darkness. Some of these fears can gradually dissipate over time on their own; however if that doesn’t happen, parents should take note. Some children are also shy around people and in social situations, and may need encouragement with this.
How do I know if my children have anxiety?
When young children suffer from anxiety, they cannot always articulate or properly express their worries. Here are a few signs to look out for if you suspect your child is anxious about something:
- Look irritable, or are tearful or clingy
- Have sleep problems
- Staying awake at night
- Begin wetting the bed
- Have nightmares
For older kids, you may notice that they:
- Lack the confidence to try new things, or seem unable to cope with simple everyday challenges
- Find it hard to focus
- Have difficulty sleeping or eating
- Tend to have angry outbursts
- Have negative thoughts, constantly thinking that bad things are going to happen
- Begin avoiding everyday activities like meeting friends, going out or even attending school
How to help my children?
If your children have anxiety, there are steps you can take to help. The most important thing is to talk to them about what they’re anxious or worried about. Assure them that they are safe with you, and show them you understand how they feel. If your children are old enough to understand, explain to them what anxiety is and discuss ways to manage it.
Other ways to help your child deal with anxiety:
- Teach them how to realise signs of anxiety in themselves, and to ask for help when it happens.
- Children of all ages find reassurance from routine. So try and stick as much to daily routine as possible, despite feelings of anxiousness or worry.
- If they are depressed due to distressing events like a loss or a separation, try and find books or movies that will help them to comprehend and make sense of their feelings.
- If there’s an upcoming major change like moving house, prepare your children by talking to them about what’s going to happen and why.
- Do not become overprotective. Instead of helping them to avoid situations or things that make them anxious, support and help them to find ways to manage their anxiety.
- Practise simple relaxation techniques with your children. For example, taking three deep, slow breaths – breathing in for a count of three and out for another three – will go a long way in alleviating any anxious or stressful feeling.
- Distractions can be useful for young children. If they are worried about going to the nursery, play games on the way to keep their mind off the worry or anxiousness.
- Turn an old tissue box into a “worry” box. Let your children write down or draw their worries and put them into the box. At the end of the day or week, sit down with them to sort through the box and think about solutions and coping skills together.
This article has been republished with permission from Hello Doktor.