Help! I think my child may have anxiety – what do I do?
Anxiety in adults is often managed through talking therapy, CBT or medication. However, increasingly we are seeing anxiety in children who may not have the self-awareness to express their feelings in a way that makes clear what is causing the problem or how we can help. For children especially, the most difficult thing about anxiety is trying to explain how they feel. “What are you worried about?” can be a very tricky question to answer: Feelings of anxiety can be very confusing for children, which in turn adds to the anxiety and makes it even worse.
What exactly is anxiety?
All children worry – exams, friendship or family difficulties such as bullying or divorce, moving school or house can all be scary and a little overwhelming, but those normal fears and feelings of unease turn into an anxiety disorder when they begin to interfere with a child’s ability to handle everyday situations.
When worries cannot be controlled, (and there may not be one obvious causing factor) or become more frequent, then anxiety can start to have debilitating effects on a child’s life. For some children their anxiety becomes so bad that they avoid social occasions or even have to leave school. Not only does this have a negative effect on their learning, but also on their social and communication skills, confidence, self-esteem and friendships.
How do I know if my child is anxious?
Sometimes it’s very difficult to tell if a child is anxious or simply misbehaving; however, if you notice a pattern of these types of behaviours it may be a sign that your child is struggling with anxiety:
- They become very tearful and emotional
- They become clingy and refuse to be parted from you
- They have difficulties with sleeping, have bad dreams and wake frequently at night or start to wet the bed
- They avoid going to school or social occasions that they would usually enjoy (e.g. birthday parties)
- They lack confidence and become very upset if asked to try new things
- They have outbursts of anger or aggressive behaviour
- They have problems with eating
- They experience frequent headaches and tummy aches
What can I do to help my child?
“Pull yourself together!” type platitudes are not going to help an anxious child. Anxiety isn’t something that will just go away by itself – indeed, if it’s ignored it will often get worse. So, what can you do to help?
- Talking to your child about their anxiety is very important. Reassure them that you understand and are there to help.
- Self-help books such as ‘Starving the Anxiety Gremlin’ can help your child to understand why they get anxious and how to manage it.
- Find out about Retained Primitive Reflexes, specifically the Moro Reflex – we can assess for issues with this.
- If the anxiety is school related and your child’s progress is slow an assessment of their visual and auditory processing issues could be beneficial – contact us.
- Use simple relaxation exercises and techniques – again, we can help.