Supporting a Child suffering from Anxiety
Having an anxious child can be difficult to manage, particularly when those anxieties prevent them from living a full life. Children often display anxieties for a number of reasons, separation anxiety, fear being around new people and worries about that impending school play.
These are all normal things to anticipate, however, anxieties that control your child's behaviour can prevent them from participating in activities that form a normal part of growing up.
Knowing how to support your child can be a difficult task. There are a million things you could say yet still won’t make things better. Trying to understand your child and sympathising with them can help to rationalise and understand what is going on. Whether triggered by something or a constant state of anxious thought, there are a number of ways to help you support your anxious child.
The imminent panic attack
Being calm is key here. If your child is having a panic attack, they need a calm environment to help ride out the storm. Although more common in teens, a panic attack can be terrifying for your child. Help your child find a calm area to sit where they can practice breathing techniques and focus on peaceful thoughts.
The latest NHS advice suggests that you focus on reminding your child that they shouldn’t try to fight the attack and that they are not in danger. For children who experience recurrent attacks, there are a wide range of resources and techniques you can go through with your child. A GP can help you and your child to help manage their anxiety, find a cause and develop a treatment plan that works best for them.
Although it would be much easier to avoid certain situations that trigger anxious episodes, the best thing you can do, as a parent, would be to address the worry directly and help your child manage their anxiety.
If a child has anxieties about school, it’s key that you try and get to the bottom of why this activity is causing so much stress. Have other children been unkind? Is it a worry about not fitting in?
Speak to teachers and support workers so that you can solve the problem rather than avoid it. This can help your child learn skills that enable them to handle these stressful situations in future rather than relying on avoidance.
If anxiety is far more severe, say for example they have recurrent panic attacks, then a medical professional is best placed to help guide you both through the best treatment. Treating your child with kindness and understanding can alleviate the shame they may feel about their anxieties.
Passing that test, fitting in with the new crowd, there are so many pressures facing our children and teens in the modern age. With the birth of social media, children have even more reason to feel anxious about the world around them.
Understand that there are stressors in 2021 that simply didn’t exist 50 years ago. Children were less care-free before.
It’s an awful thought, but could your behaviours be contributing to your child’s anxiety? We’ve heard how children roamed care-free in the 60s, only coming home for dinner. They walked themselves to school and parents had confidence that their children were ok. They knew they would be absolutely fine out playing with friends, and they were right. Nowadays, children are more likely to be kept cooped up for fear that the outside world isn’t quite safe enough. Year on year, children are less likely to walk to school unattended and have fewer freedoms than their parents did. So how does this impact childhood mental health?
Multiple studies suggest that being overprotective contributes to poor mental health in both parents and their children. In a 2010 study, researchers found that children, whose mothers were classed as having ‘extreme control’ over their children reported higher levels of anxiety1. It’s possible that instilling fears in a child’s mind influences them into believing there’s a real threat. If children are prevented from playing outside, they’ll be led to believe that there is danger in the outside world.
So how do you manage this? There is no real right or wrong way to approach raising an anxious child. It could be that having an overprotective stance is more appropriate. What studies do demonstrate however, is that children are highly receptive to their own parents behaviour and a fearful parent can possibly influence how a child sees the world.
Helping them understand and plan
Anxious children won’t know why they feel so scared and as a parent, it’s important that you reassure and explain what anxiety is. From the scientific cause to the changes in their body, helping them break down and compartmentalise each physical symptom of anxiety will help them to control it better. Anxious minds often need a plan to help them escape a troubling situation.
If a child is afraid of attending a sleepover, work with them to develop a plan that, should they feel overly anxious, they can escape the situation quickly. Whether that’s working with the other parent’s to provide some added comfort if your child gets scared or giving them a number that they can call if they want to come home. Rather than avoiding the situation, the child can then be reassured that there’s a plan in place if they feel afraid.
If your child has overcome a challenging situation, it’s important that you recognise that. Positive reinforcement is an effective alternative to medication in managing a child's anxieties2. If a child is scared for an exam, for example, it’s important to recognise the hard work they have put into studying for it.
Reassure them that you think they will perform well because they’ve put in the work. Give them praise after their exam, remind them of how proud you are. If they get a positive reaction following a scary experience, it will guide them into feeling less scared next time they are faced with a similar problem.
If you are looking for a tool to help your child overcome Anxiety please contact us today or take a look at some products we have available in our online store.
1) Eley, T. C., Napolitano, M., Lau, J. Y. F., and Gregory, A. M. (2010). Does childhood anxiety evoke maternal control? A genetically informed study. J. Child Psychol. Psychiatry 51, 772–779.
2) Anthonappa, R. P., Ashley, P. F., Bonetti, D. L., Lombardo, G., & Riley, P. (2017). Non‐pharmacological interventions for managing dental anxiety in children. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2017(6)