It is a natural reaction as a parent to want to shield your child from situations that cause them upset, however eliminating situations that cause a child anxiety might simply create a domino effect. Anxiety is a natural reaction and sometimes children feel angst about very normal situations –catching a train, meeting friends or going to school – often providing positive but realistic responses to your child is a good way of supporting them in managing their anxiety.
It is equally a difficult time for a parent, to watch your child experience anxiety, which at times can be very overwhelming and treading unexplored territory. Every child (as is every parent) is different and therefore it is important to find a method of coping and responding that works well with you and your child. Here are some ideas that have helped the Second Mile Consulting Team with managing everyday childhood anxiety:
- Talk to your child and listen. Anxiety can be frightening so it is important that they feel their concerns are being listened to and really heard without judgement. It is often a understandable normal reactive to trivialise what your child might be feeling, but remember its very real for them.
- Help them recognise the feelings they experience when they are anxious, so they can spot them if it should happen again and know when to ask for help and whom might be able to help them at for example school or any after-school activities.
- Reassure your child that they are ok and that this is perfectly healthy reaction. Some children experience physical symptoms such as palpitations and do not necessarily know that these feelings will pass.
- If your child is having a panic attack or becoming distressed get them to breathe deeply and slowly (in through the nose and out through the mouth).
- Use visualisation techniques to distract them – ask them to close their eyes and think of their favourite place and get them to talk to you about it. If it is a holiday destination ask them to feel the sand in-between their toes, get them to describe the food they ate, the games they played.
- Touch is a huge part of overcoming anxiety. Some children benefit from having their hand held or being given a cuddle, equally others respond better to space being given to them. Some children respond well to kinaesthetic therapy, e.g. playing with Lego, making slime or even cooking while talking about their feelings. Perhaps try asking them to focus on a text in a book, any page, but to read that page out loud as a way of distracting them (this equally works well for adults too).
- Some children benefit from keeping a worry diary or posting their worries into a box. Guatemalan worry dolls can also help in some cases. The child tells each doll what they are worried about and puts them back into their bag and the dolls take the worries away.
- Children who continually check situations may benefit from being encouraged to count to 10 before they check again giving them time to calm down and reassess the situation.
- Work on positive thinking. Emma Hossack founder of Transforming Young Minds talks to her clients about turning their anxiety into a superpower. Using NLP, she creates techniques that allow children to be excited instead of fearful.
- Ensure your child maintains a healthy lifestyle and is getting enough sleep to reduce levels of stress. It is also worth looking at their schedule. There is always the danger of filling their days with so many activities they don’t have the time to unwind and experience the simplicity of their childhood.
Kat Shaw is founder of Brilliantly Imperfect and runs courses looking for happiness including the Happy Children’s Workshop which covers coping mechanisms for anxiety.
Reoccurring feelings of anxiousness can impact on your child’s quality of life and lead to other problems. If you are worried about your child, do contact your GP to find out help you to learn more about the support available to your child.