Notice the little anxieties – treat them and they won’t unfold into big ones!

“Amelia has ALWAYS been anxious – it started with just little things like not wanting to go to parties – or not wanting me to leave her – but it’s just got so much worse as she’s got older. Or “James started being anxious at nursery school and it’s never gone away – he’s now 12 and worries about EVERYTHING!

I hear this almost every day. The thing is that anxiety is one of those things that has been turned into “a condition”. General anxiety disorder. (social anxiety disorder and separation anxiety disorder) Every time we hear the word anxiety or anxious now, we think of it as a “disorder” when in fact it is a “feeling “just like happiness, sadness, anger or excitement.

I see probably around 90 children at my clinics every month and nearly all of them are presenting with anxiety of some sort: food anxiety, sleep anxiety, general anxiety, social anxiety, separation anxiety, school anxiety … the list goes on! 
Many children get their excited feeling mixed up with anxiety. After all – the symptoms are very similar! Butterflies in tummy making them feel a bit queasy is just one.

Children shouldn’t be suffering anxiety if they are in a stable loving home with parents who love them unconditionally, keep them calm and answer all their little questions so that they don’t worry! Yes of course children will feel a bit nervous when there’s a test at school or a school show etc but that is a NORMAL response to a situation not necessarily an anxiety disorder.

Children LEARN by going through situations that challenge them -school plays – first swimming lesson – going to a party – in fact nearly everything we do in life that’s a bit different or new! This is how we all learn when we are growing up. However, if the child’s anxious feelings are left to get worse and are affecting him/ her badly, perhaps with sleep issues, eating, bedwetting, stool-holding etc then of course that’s when we need to intervene and seek help for the child. 

But … what can we do to help an anxious child? Well, one thing I do at my clinic (once we have dealt with any physical symptoms) is to teach the child strategies to deal with anxious situations when they come up. By doing this they will feel more in control. I play games with the child to build a good rapport and once I’ve found out what the root of the anxiety is – I give the child some little “tools” to deal with the problem. I call it an anxiety tool kit or a worry tool kit.  Little mind skills that that they can use if they start to feel anxious, or, calming techniques and breathing exercises. The simpler the better! But WHEN SHOULD mum’s and dad’s start to be concerned about their child? The answer is when YOU the parent are worried that it’s affecting them on a daily or weekly basis.

Signs to watch out for:

  • Child not sleeping 
  • Child not eating or overeating 
  • Bedwetting 
  • Self-harm
  • Nervous tics
  • Temper tantrums 
  • Anger outbursts 
  • Child becomes quiet and sad
  • Teachers mentioning child behaving differently at school 
  • Lack of concentration

How parents can help their anxious child:

There are many things parents and carers can do to help, if a child is suffering from anxiety.

First of all, it’s important to talk to your child about their worries. Reassure them and show them you understand how they feel.

If your child is old enough, it may help to explain what anxiety is (explain the fight or flight) and the physical effects it has on our bodies. It may be helpful to describe anxiety as being like a wave that builds up and then just floats away again. Apart from talking to your child about their worries and anxieties, it’s important to help them find their own solutions.

The tendency is to say to your child: “If you’re worried about that sleepover at Tom’s house then, don’t go!” But, of course the message you are giving here is “if you get anxious about something, it means you can’t do it.” And that’s NOT the idea!

It’s better to say, “I know that you’re worried about going to Tom’s sleepover, so what do YOU think you can do that’s going to help?”   If you concentrate on helping the child find a solution to the problem rather than not do it, it will be a much better approach and will have a far more positive outcome.

Other Ways to Ease Anxiety in Children

  • Children of all ages like routines, so try to stick to regular daily routines where possible.
  • If your child is anxious because of distressing events, such as divorce or separation, see if you can find books that will help them understand their emotions.
  • Changes such as a house move, or going to a new school, – prepare your child by talking to them about what is going to happen and why.
  • Try not to become over – protective – rather than doing things for your child or helping them to avoid anxiety, help your child to find ways to manage them.
  • Do simple relaxation techniques with your child or some simple yoga exercises.
  • Distracting the child, can be helpful, especially for younger children. For example, if they are anxious about going to nursery, play games on the way there, such as “How many blue cars can we see on the way to nursery?”
  • Turn an old shoe box into a “worry” box. Get your child to write down or draw their worries and post them into the box. I think there is also a worry monster toy you can buy too!

When should Parents get Help?  

It’s a good idea to get hep If your child’s anxiety is severe, persists and interferes with their everyday life. Also, you should be chatting to the child’s teacher as he/she spends quite a big part of the day with your child and would more than likely notice the signs and symptoms.

Or, you can contact me for advice – Elaine Hodgins, Clinical Hypnotherapist, specialist in children’s anxiety

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