Anxiety is a common condition that can be very debilitating and it is becoming more and more common in children. Anybody who has suffered from it can tell you it can make everyday activities seem impossible and make it hard to concentrate or relax.
Signs that your child may be feeling anxious.
What does anxiety look like in children? Anxiety can present in many ways, but some common signs to look out for are:
- Avoidance of certain situations or places, making excuses
- A change in sleeping patterns
- Refusal to go to school or participate in activities
- Having difficulty concentrating.
- Outbursts of anger or crying
- Physical symptoms such as often complaining of stomach aches. (particularly in younger children)
What are the causes of anxiety?
There are a number of causes of anxiety in children, but one of the most common is anxiety about school. Anxiety about school life can be caused by a number of things, such as bullying, social pressure, or a fear of failure.
In older children, anxiety can also be caused by social media, peer pressure, the stress of everyday challenges or exams and the pressure to do well.
Some children are just more empathic and take on the worries of others is there anything going on around you that could be causing them anxiety?
What can we do to help?
It is very important that as parents we look at what might be causing our children’s anxiety and help them to understand and manage their fears. Speak to your child’s teacher to try and work out if there may be anything bothering them at school you may be able to come up with a plan to help them. Talk to your child and try to work out what it is that is making them feel anxious. Listen to what they say to you, stay calm and don’t try to make light of it. If you take what they say seriously they are more likely to talk to you in the future.
If a child is displaying anxiety in early childhood it may be a symptom of some sensory issues. have you noticed any little quirks, things that they don’t like, say if they struggle with noise for instance it could be that they have a sensitivity to sounds. If you have it is worth doing an Spd checklist to see if there are other sensory issues that might be causing anxiety.
Here are a few signs that your child might have sensory processing difficulties,
- Does your child hate wearing certain clothes?
- Does your child flinch at light touch?
- Do they hate bright lights?
These are just a few examples of a sensory defensive child, a difference in how a child processes sensory stimuli could be a cause for anxiety in young children but if it is picked up early there are things that can be done to help the child and reduce their stress levels. See my post on Could my child have sensory processing disorder? for more symptoms and information.
Children with additional needs such as Autism, Sensory processing disorder and dyspraxia may be more prone to anxiety as their bodies are constantly under stress going into fight or flight mode and it could be that they seem perfectly fine at school. It is very common for young people to mask how they are feeling at school and then let it all out when they come home. This is because you as parents are their safe space and they can let go of their bottled up feelings in their home environment. Alongside learning what triggers your child there is one simple thing you can do to help them and this will help any child that is anxious or fearful give them a predictable routine.
How a strong routine could help.
For anxious children getting into good habits with a strong routine can be invaluable. Routine can provide a sense of stability and predictability in an otherwise chaotic world. It can help children to feel in control and less anxious. Having set routines can also help to reduce the number of decisions that need to be made, which can be overwhelming for many children with anxiety.
When setting a routine, it is important to involve your child in the process and to make sure that it is realistic. It is also important to be flexible and to allow for some deviation from the routine, as this can help to reduce stress and anxiety.
Here are some ideas for structuring your child’s day:
- Wake up at the same time each day and have a set morning routine for getting ready for the day.
- School days should have a similar structure, including time for homework and relaxation.
- On weekends and holidays, try to maintain some degree of predictability by having regular mealtimes and scheduled activities.
- Encourage your child to take part in activities that they enjoy and make time for them to relax.
Planning ahead can also be helpful. If your child knows what is going to happen during the day, it can help to reduce their anxiety. Make sure to give them plenty of time to get ready for activities and to avoid last-minute changes. It can also be helpful to have a backup plan in case things don’t go as planned.
I would recommend that you keep a calendar of events for the up and coming months so that you and your child can see what is happening and when and cross off the days as you go. My son finds this very reassuring as he gets very worked up before any big or small event, he struggles with change and transitions so being able to picture when and where they are visually and in relation to each other makes it easier for him to cope with.
What else can I do?
Exercise can be an enormous help in managing anxiety as it releases endorphins which have a calming and mood-boosting effect. Children are not as active as they used to be so it is important to try and make sure that they are getting enough exercise by building it into their daily routine.
You could try:
- Walking, cycling or scooting to and from school.
- Going for a family walk or bike ride
- Playing in the park
- Playing active games together such as tag or hide and seek.
- Helping out with the household chores.
There are a number of sensory activities that can be very helpful in reducing anxiety in children and adults. These activities can help to calm and focus the mind and provide a sense of grounding for your child counteracting their fight or flight
Some ideas for sensory activities include:
- Blowing bubbles
- Drawing or painting
- Playing with playdough
- Playing with kinetic sand
- Listening to calming music
Sleep is a very important factor in managing anxiety. A good night’s sleep can help to reduce anxiety and make it easier to cope with stress. Make sure to establish a bedtime routine that will help your child to wind down and relax before bed.
A good routine to get into for adults and children alike is putting away mobile phones and tablets at least an hour before bedtime, reading a book or doing a relaxation exercise such as yoga or meditation.
You could also try some natural remedies to help with anxiety such as:
- Chamomile tea
- Lavender oil
- Rescue remedy
- magnesium supplements
For younger children, a worry monster or teddy may be a very useful tool. This is something that they can tell all of their worries to before bedtime so that they don’t have to worry about them overnight.
You can do many things to help your child with their anxiety, but it is essential to remember that every child is different and what works for one child may not work for another. It is also important to seek professional help if your child’s anxiety continues. If your child is struggling with anxiety, talk to their doctor or mental health professional. They can help you to develop a plan that will work for your child and your family.
Being a parent of a highly anxious child comes with a unique set of challenges, but it is important to remember that you are not alone. There is a lot of support available and there are many things that you can do to help your child. With the right support, your child can learn to manage their anxiety and live a happy and fulfilling life.