It is a fairly common occurrence for children to suffer some amount of anxiety. After all, children are constantly facing changing environments, new experiences and are out of their comfort zones.
However, it is estimated that up to 22 per cent of children will suffer anxiety more intensely than your average child.
It is important to be able to recognise when anxiety becomes so significant that it begins to impact on the child’s academic, social and family life.
To be able to assist our children, we must first be able to understand exactly what anxiety is. It is a feeling of nervousness, worry or unease regarding everyday occurrences, in simple terms.
Signs that your child may be suffering from anxiety:
- Nervous behaviour – nail biting, hair twirling, sucking (on clothes, hair etc)
- Physical complaints – sore tummy, tiredness, sore head
- Regression – bedwetting
- Withdrawal – avoiding relationships with siblings, parents and friends
- Emotional – crying at seemingly no reason
- Fear – feeling like they will be laughed at or disliked
- Sleep disruptions – difficulty sleep, interruptions to sleep
- Unusual behaviours – anything that you notice is out of the ordinary
The 3 main types of anxiety in children
Just like in adults there are varieties of anxiety in children. Below are the three main categories.
While separation is developmentally appropriate for children up to two years, for older children it can become debilitating.
Often they are worried that something bad will happen to their loved ones while they are apart. Children who suffer separation anxiety often attempt to skip school with illness. School camps and sleepovers become a major problem.
The child has an extreme shyness or fear of being seen by their peers in a negative light. They tend to avoid social interactions such as speaking in front of their class, talking to new people and attending events. Often with limited friends, they are self conscious and are afraid of being laughed at.
This is when a child has excessive and persistent worries about everyday occurrences. Things such as how popular they are or is their school work good enough. They’re often lacking self-confidence and feel the need to get everything perfect. They require a lot of assurance.
How to help manage anxiety in children
1. Do not avoid triggers
The goal is not to completely eliminate anxiety, but to help your child manage it. By avoiding all triggers our children do not learn how to tolerate their anxiety.
It is important that we help them to function with these feelings. This way the anxiety will begin to fall away on its own.
2. Respect how they feel
Try not to disregard their worries. Respect their feelings and help to set realistic expectations. Rather than promise your child that they won’t fail, instil in them the confidence that even if they do fail, they will be okay.
3. Try not to prompt feelings
Allow your child to communicate their feelings to you without asking leading questions. Ensure you ask open-ended questions.
For example, rather than ask ‘are you nervous about your first day of school?’ ask ‘how are you feeling about your first day of school?’
4. Do not reinforce emotions
Sometimes our body language and reactions to situations can reinforce our child’s emotions. Try to be weary of how you respond.
If your child see’s you become upset about leaving them at school then he will begin to feel his own worries arise.
5. Lead by example
The more your child is witness to how you respond in an anxious situation, the more they learn how to cope with their own.
If you are worried that anxiety is affecting your child’s ability to live to the fullest, we suggest speaking with your doctor.
Maybe you’re trying to parent a highly sensitive child? If so we suggest you read this post.
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