Anxiety disorders in children can worsen as they grow. If left untreated, anxiety can impact both their physical and mental health. Here’s how to help your child manage anxiety.
What is Anxiety
Anxiety refers to the feeling of unease, such as worry, nervousness, or unease. It is part of our survival instinct and an understandable reaction to a stressful event or sudden change. When faced with such situations, the brain and body naturally respond by kicking into safe mode. This is when adrenalin will start to kick in, helping us get ready to escape danger.
For children, it is normal to worry or become anxious from time to time. This is mostly the reaction they have when starting a new school or nursery or moving to new places. However, not all cases are the same. For some children, anxiety affects their thought and behavior, causing it to interfere with their school, home, and social life. This is when you may need to address the condition before it becomes a more serious issue.
Signs of Anxiety Disorders in Children
Anxiety can make a small child feel a lot of things. Some of the signs to look out for in your child are:
- finding it hard to focus or concentrate
- Sleeping problems, like trouble falling asleep or waking in the night with bad dreams
- feeling tense and constantly worrying
- Easily irritable, quickly getting angry, and uncontrolled outbursts
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent crying
- Heart racing, chest pain, sweating, dry mouth, and headaches
- Tense or sore muscles
- Eating problems
Anxiety disorders in children are very common, but it might be hard to spot the signs. All you need to do to observe and be mindful. Many children are good at masking anxiety with aggressive behavior or withdrawal. It is also worth noting that not every child will have the same symptoms.
How to Help Your Child Manage Anxiety
There are things you can do overtime to help your child manage their anxiety and eventually feel better. Here are a few strategies you can try:
- Encourage them to take slow, deep breaths
Taking some slow and deep breaths can help ease the physical effect of anxiety. Have your child do some breathing techniques such as breathing in for three counts, holding for three, then out for three.
- Let them talk about their feelings
When your child is sharing how they are feeling, listen non-judgmentally. Acknowledge their fears and concerns and do not dismiss their thoughts.
- Promote positive thinking
Children with anxiety often suffer from unhelpful thinking patterns. They tend to focus on worst-case scenarios and the ‘what-ifs.’ To help them shift to more helpful and positive thinking, encourage them to challenge their unhelpful thoughts with facts. Remind them of similar issues from the past and how things work out fine.
- Avoid using labels
Do not label your child’s feelings as being ‘shy’ or ‘anxious.’ Instead, use the word ‘brave’ or any other positive term. After all, your child is making efforts to overcome their anxiety.
- Become a role model
Try to be a good role model to them when it comes to good mental health. Do this by managing your stress and dealing with your anxiety.
Getting professional help
Anxiety disorders are unlikely to go away on their own, but they can be improved with treatment. Seeking help from professionals is the best you can do to help your child with anxiety. Getting them the right treatment also shows that you care and send them the message that they are not alone.
Options for professional help include your doctor or general physician (GP), a psychologist, and even school counselors. You can also try calling parenting hotlines or Lifeline Australia – 131 114 for assistance. Lastly, you can get help from your local community health center or local mental health services.
Professional treatment usually focuses on strategies to help children cope with anxiety. It means that they are likely to learn how to manage anxiety rather than avoid it. Children do not usually need medications, but doctors might prescribe them under certain circumstances.
Learn more about anxiety and other mental health condition in a Mental Health First Aid Course.