You would do anything for your child. Whether that child is your own flesh and blood, a relative or a student under your care, you would go out of your way to make sure that the child is happy, safe and healthy.
How Do I Know There Is a Real Problem?
Anxiety is a normal part of childhood, and every child goes through phases. The difference between a phase and an anxiety disorder is that a phase is temporary and usually harmless. Children who suffer from an anxiety disorder experience fear, nervousness, shyness, and avoidance of places and activities that persist despite parents, caretakers, and teachers’ helpful efforts.To help them, we also should differentiate between two interchangeable terms. Fear can be defined as a negative emotional state triggered by the presence of a stimulus that has the potential to cause immediate harm, while anxiety can be defined as an emotional state in which the threat is not immediately present but is anticipated.Both of these emotions are adaptive and essential for survival. Fear and anxiety are considered dysfunctional when intensity, duration, and/or frequency are not proportional to the eliciting threat and cause interference, disabilities, impairment, and/or distress that are judged clinically excessive.Anxiety disorders tend to become chronic and interfere with how your child functions at home or school to the point that your child becomes distressed and uncomfortable and starts avoiding activities or people.Unlike a temporary phase of fear, such as seeing a scary movie and then having trouble falling asleep, reassurance and comfort are not enough to help a child with an anxiety disorder get past their fear and anxiety.
What If That Child Suffered From Anxiety?
Yes, children suffer from anxiety, and mental health issues such as this among children are starting to become more recognized and understood.This means that parents, caregivers, and teachers now have more resources available to help children successfully deal with anxiety periods.The term “anxiety disorder,” in fact, refers to a group of mental illnesses that includes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder (also called social phobia), and specific phobias. Each anxiety disorder has specific symptoms.Remember, it is always important to seek professional help when dealing with any health issue, including a mental health issue. Don’t take the burden upon yourself. Professionals have the training and experience to best deal with health problems, and they can also help you as an adult to manage your child’s anxiety.
The following strategies can help you to work with a child who is experiencing anxiety.
The first step to helping a child through anxiety is acknowledging that anxiety is a genuine issue for children and serious. It’s easy for many adults to think that a child’s anxiety is just ‘a phase they’re going through or that their moods are either a natural part of being a child or might even be put on for sympathy or attention.A combination of typical children’s behaviours can signify anxiety. Experts recommend that adults accept that children and teenagers suffer from anxiety and that this needs to be acknowledged before it can be dealt with.
2- Knowing The Symptoms…
How do you know that your child is suffering from anxiety?Symptoms of anxiety can be harder to spot in children than in adults, and young children and teenagers are often less likely to talk about their feelings. Also, they may be unable to articulate their feelings and thoughts. However, anxiety could be present in children who display the following symptoms:- Defiant behaviour- Stomach aches- Crying- Tantrums and meltdowns- Headaches- Difficulty sleeping- Frustration- Being clingy- Using the toilet frequently- Not eating properly- Tension and fidgeting- Finding it hard to concentrate- Physical symptomsPediatric anxiety disorders are particularly likely to occur in association with somatic complaints (i.e., physical symptoms occurring in the absence of a verified medical condition or symptoms in excess of what would typically be expected for a given medical illness).Somatic symptoms in children with anxiety disorders can include complaints of chest pain, tachycardia, and shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Although symptoms may vary, one of the most consistently reported and debilitating symptoms in anxious children is abdominal pain.
3- Seek Help
The next step in helping a child through anxiety is to seek help. It is vital to teaching children to seek help and allow other people to help them, and it is vital that their caregiver also allows themselves to seek help.The first port of call is a health professional such as a psychologist or psychotherapist. Still, even a close friend, relative or confidante can be valuable in the process of helping a child overcome their anxiety.
4- Think Long-Term
The solution to the problem of child anxiety may be hard to find. The process may be long, and adults should assume that the journey out of anxiety will take a long time. It may take months or years, and the process may have to revisit in the future.Specialist advice tells us that people who suffer from anxiety once are more likely to suffer from anxiety again in the future. This shouldn’t tell us to give up on a person. It should tell us that children with anxiety need to be monitored and assisted in the long term.
5- Stay Busy
Parents and teachers know full well the value of keeping children busy. We know that children begin to think and worry most at the end of the day when they’re no longer engaged in constructive activities or idle.Therefore, it helps keep the children participating in constructive activities, which could be educational or purely fun so that they are not left with too much time to think about their situation.At the same time, it is vital to avoid overstimulating children with too many activities and giving them time to be bored and let their imagination wander.Finding the balance between activity and downtime can be tricky, but using your natural intuition and your knowledge of the children under your care will enable you to do so.
Many useful books, websites and resources exist for adults assisting children with anxiety. One such book is Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy, by Peter Blake.In the book, Blake outlines the causes of mental health issues among children and teenagers and strategies for assisting children through these challenging times.He divides the stages into assessment and therapy. The assessment stage includes the referral and initial interview between the child and the health professional, the assessment of that individual child, developmental considerations, an assessment for the most appropriate therapy, and working with the child’s parents.The therapy phase includes consideration of physical and mental settings, interpretation, the role and challenges of play, and specific psychotherapy principles such as transference, countertransference and termination.The latter terms are highly academic and theoretical, so parents and caregivers don’t need a thorough understanding of them but can benefit from knowing some of the techniques professionals will use when guiding children through mental health challenges.One of the highlighted features of Blake’s book is the role of play and humour. Blake outlines how therapists, and thus parents and other adults, can be playful and humorous when working with children of any age. He supports this notion with many anecdotes and examples from his clinical work.
A specific therapeutic technique is called thought-noticing. Thought-noticing is the process of knowing when the mind is just wandering or daydreaming, and when the mind is focused on a person’s worries or troubles.Children can be taught to notice when they are thinking negative thoughts and letting their minds dwell on their troubles.The technique also shows children that they are only thinking about their troubles; they are not actually experiencing those troubles.This is useful for removing children from negative thought processes. Adults can teach children to ‘unhook’ from these negative thoughts and bring their minds back to the present and back to reality.The value of thought-noticing teaches children to tune into their thinking and distance themselves from these negative thoughts, and mentally step back and realize that it is just one more negative thought that will come and go. They don’t need to dwell on it.
8- Specific Techniques
To learn thought-noticing and other positive mindsets, try some of these techniques with your child.Lay down with your child, get comfy and listen. Listen to whatever sounds you hear for about 2 minutes, then compare what you each heard. Share how your minds wandered.
9- I am Listening…Tell Me More!
Normal, daily conversations can also help you connect with your child and assess their state of mind. During a conversation, ask questions such as:Is there anything that’s bothering you?What did you do during recess? Who did you spend time with?You don’t talk about Peter anymore. Is everything okay?What was the most frustrating part of your day?
10- Give it a Name!
Another technique that has proved successful is giving the mind a name. Encourage your child to give their mind a name, just like naming a pet.Your child might call their mind, “Tommy.” When you sense trouble building up or would like to know what your child is feeling, you can ask them what Tommy is thinking.This way, the child can step back from their thoughts and essentially look at themselves from above.
Meltdowns, tantrums, switching off, and introversion can all occur for children with anxiety. Incidents will happen, and as unpleasant and stressful as they are, they can be a chance to get through to your child.After an incident, reflect on what occurred. Once they have calmed down, ask questions like:“What did your mind say to make you feel upset?” for younger children or “can you tell me what you thought that made you feel so angry, frustrated, disappointed, etc.?” for older kids.Developing these practical skills in children helps them to reach a point where they can self-regulate.Also known as metacognition, self-regulation helps children be more successful, more resilient, and better able to problem-solve because they are less likely to get caught up in their worries.Dr.Eman Sedkyhas medically reviewed the article.
Last but not least
Children under your care are likely to experience anxiety at some point, and you can help. Recognize that anxiety is a serious issue among children, and identify common symptoms before seeking professional help.Stay positive and realize that guiding the child through anxiety is long and ready to support the child in the long term.Consult trusted confidantes and expert literature, then implement strategies such as ‘naming,’ thought noticing, play, reflection, providing constructive activities and regular conversation. Applying these techniques with positivity and patience will help you support your child’s journey out of anxiety and into a fuller and happier life!