I remember the first time my anxiety became a problem. I was about 8 years old when my parents decided to buy me some really tiny worry dolls. They were kept in a little bag and I had to tell each one a worry before I went to sleep, then place them under my pillow and my worries would be gone in the morning. Do you think it worked? Well obviously the answer was no as I had too many worries and not enough dolls.
I think society expects all children to be happy and carefree but in reality this is not the case. As many as 1 in 6 young people experience anxiety at some point in their lives.
In children, anxiety can show itself in physical, emotional and behavioural ways, such as it does with adults.
Physical symptoms include: frequent complaints of stomach and headaches, refusal to eat snacks or lunch at nursery or school, only using the toilet at home, becoming restless, fidgety, hyperactive or distracted, shaking or sweating and trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.
Emotional signs include: phobias and exaggerated fears, grouchiness and anger, worrying about things in the far future, obsessive thoughts and compulsions such as constant hand washing, plus many others.
Behavioural signs include: asking “what if” all the time, refusing to go to school, avoiding social situations, constantly seeking approval and becoming emotional and angry when separated from their parents.
Anxiety can start from a very young age, from about 8 months old in fact. This is the separation anxiety that you often hear us mums talking about. This can go on until a child is about 3 years of age if not longer. I experienced this only briefly with my son at the beginning, however he is now 4 and struggles a lot more now at times than he did at a younger age. He can get very upset and clingy but as I will talk about later on, you must continue with what you were doing and not give in to the temptation, as hard as it may be to see your child upset, it will be better for them in the long run to have a bit of time away from you.
Children generally become a little anxious when starting a new school or before exams and may feel shy in new surroundings but this is all completely normal. Anxiety will become a problem when it starts to affect a child’s day to day life.
Professor Stallard, Professor of Child and Family Mental Health at the University of Bath says “For example, if you go into any school at exam time, all of the kids will be anxious, but some may be so anxious that they do not make it into school that morning.”
Such anxiety can harm children’s mental and emotional wellbeing, affecting their self-esteem and confidence.
When I was of school age, I remember feeling so sick when Monday morning came round after a lovely weekend. All I wanted to do was stay at home with my parents where I felt the safest. I was constantly telling my parents I had a stomach ache and I felt sick because of the horrible anxiety I suffered.
Being able to manage the anxiety is the most important thing you can help your child to achieve. If you can do this and help your child to tolerate their anxiety, it may decrease or eventually fall away over time. One of the worst things you can do as a parent with a child who suffers with anxiety is to avoid a situation that the child doesn’t feel comfortable in. It will make them feel better in the short term however, it will worsen the anxiety in the long run. You can do many things to help your child manage an anxiety episode including, respecting their feelings, don’t belittle their fears but don’t amplify them at the same time. Talk things through with your child, ask them what they think would happen if their fear came true and how would they handle it. You can find lots of information online about helping an anxious child. Help them to understand that worrying is a good thing and it does in fact serve a purpose. It is a protection mechanism that can help protect us and that everyone experiences it.
Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions. Counselling or CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) may be offered depending on your child’s age and the cause of their anxiety. I had some CBT a couple of years ago now and I found it really helpful in understanding the way my mind works and how to overcome certain things. It is good to talk.
Anxiety disorders in children can be caused by a variety of different things including, funnily enough, being around someone who already suffers. Anxiety can also be developed after certain events in a child’s life such as frequently moving house or schools, parents fighting, the death of a loved one plus many others.
Please remember that anxiety can also lead to a range of other problems and with me personally, this led to OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), an eating disorder and at times in my life, some depression too.
Parents play an essential role in helping a suffering child. Some parents may suspect that their child is a little different to others but may not immediately know that anxiety is the cause, which often leads to the parents feeling frustrated, overwhelmed and unable to help but always remember that anxiety can be managed. Brave behaviour should be rewarded which in turn, helps your child gain back some confidence and ultimately making them feel a little happier.
Amazon do an amazing range of informative and helpful books, not only for the parents but also for the children. There are some wonderful colouring books on there that are based on trying to calm anxiety, which I also use at the age of 26. I can highly recommend “Making Friends With Anxiety” A Calming Colouring Book by Sarah Rayner. The illustrations are beautiful along with the mantras she has on each page also.
The book range for children who suffer is endless, I have been having a little search on Amazon and a few have taken my eye that look like they could be really beneficial. These include :
No Worries! Mindful Kids, An activity book for young people who sometimes feel anxious or stressed – this book is aimed at children aged 7+and is an interactive self-care book with activities that help to tackle anxiety, sadness and stress using creativity.
The Huge Bag Of Worries – This is a bright picture book written by one of Britain’s leading agony aunts and has sold 140k copies to date. This book is aimed at children ages 3-8 years.
What To Do When You Worry Too Much – This is another self-help book written for children between the ages 6-12 and their parents to guide them through CBT techniques.
The possibilities are endless for both parent and child, there were so many I could have discussed but take a look and keep talking.
by Kayleigh Duncan