Anxiety is something that we may have all faced at some point in our life. Anxiety in children can occur from as young as 5 years old.
It is common to feel anxious, worried or even having sleepless nights. But this is normal when it happens every once in a while.
For instance, your child may feel anxious the day before their exams or before a major sports competition.
Anxiety can become a problem when it exists continuously. It causes extreme fear and worry that can affect a child’s behavior, eat, sleep and mood.
In this blog I will breakdown the following points :
WHAT CAUSES CHILD ANXIETY?
SIGNS OF ANXIETY IN A CHILD
CAN A CHILD AS YOUNG AS 5 HAVE ANXIETY
CHILD ANXIETY TREATMENTS
OTHER WAYS TO COPE WITH ANXIETY
HOW TO HELP A CHILD WHO IS ANXIOUS ABOUT SCHOOL?
8 THINGS TO NEVER SAY TO YOUR ANXIOUS CHILD
24 PHRASES TO CALM DOWN AN ANXIOUS CHILD
So now let’s get started with the basics of child anxiety.
WHAT CAUSES ANXIETY IN CHILDREN?
There are different types of anxiety that your child may face. But generally, they are categorised as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Separation Anxiety and phobia.
Now let me tell you the difference between all those types of anxiety.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
It happens when a child is worried constantly almost every day. The reason can be many things. They may worry about friends, homework, social life, technology and more.
GAD kids tend to worry often. It could also be due to things you may never expect. For instance, feeling anxious about their birthday celebration or social media post not getting the likes they expect.
GAD kids may find it hard to focus in school or to even relax and be able to enjoy the moment.
Depending on the child of your age they may not even talk to you about their worries. They can find it hard to express their feelings or feel better despite what others say to them.
Separation anxiety disorder (SAD).
This is something I am very familiar with. My toddler faces this every time I leave the house. But as soon she’s in daycare she feels relaxed again.
The problem comes when kids do not outgrow their fear of being away from their parent. This is then known as a separation anxiety disorder.
Especially for younger children starting shcool this can be extremely difficult. They may hate going to school or even feel sick to go.
Some kids will hold on to their parents or not even want to participate in any activities withou0t their parent. They may not even want to sleep on their own.
It is normal for a child to feel anxious when a parent leaves the room. However, they can be distracted by that feeling.
This is considered more of a disorder when it happens to kids between the age of 7 to 9 years. old.
TREATMENTS FOR ANXIETY IN CHILDREN:
There are plenty of treatment options for your kids. But and foremost, talk to your child about what is worrying them.
Reasuree them that you understand their feelings and do not be judgemental.
The NHS describes anxiety as waves that build up and then goes away but may come again. Let them know that their problem can be managed.
Instead of telling your child to “be calm and just do it, you will get over it” find a solution together with them. This is what you can say instead:
“I know you are feeling nervous. What can you and I do to help you with this.?”. Instead of dismissing the problem, explore it together with your child.
Some kids can find it hard to express their feelings. This is when I love the idea of Growth Mindset For Kids. It is activities that help children express their emotions and overcome challenges with confidence.
THE GROWTH MINDSET KIT also helps kids manage their anxiety using worksheets and positive affirmation. You can find it more about Growth Mindset Kit here.
The other most common treatment for anxiety is to go to a therapist that specializes in helping families and kids manage their anxiety.
The therapist will support, provide activities and praise your kids in the process. They will learn how to avoid their fears or even how to overcome those fears.
During therapy parents will also be thought how to cope with an anxious child.
Hence, it is good to seek professional help if you are dealing with a child that has an anxiety disorder. If you are in the UK then visiting your GP is the first step. They will guide you with what you can do next and even book your child in for therapy.
OTHER WAYS TO COPE WITH ANXIETY IN CHILDREN:
Think of activities your kids like to do and when they are feeling worried you can remind them of the fun things they can do to help them calm down.
Print out the activities and have it in their bedroom so it acts as a reminder to your child. This is an example that I made for my nephew. You can leave a comment at the end of the blog post and I can make a similar one for your child that can you can print out and keep in their bedroom.
HOW TO COPE WITH AN ANXIOUS CHILD?
Here are some strategies to help you cope with an anxious child:
Help your child manage and NOT eliminate anxiety
When a child is an anxious the goals is not to eliminate it but rather help your child manage it. I understand that we do not want our child to be unhappy. But your child will have to learn how to manage their anxiety.
Over time the anxiety might disappear but that will not happen overnight. Hence management is the best coping strategy and not elimination of anxiety.
2. Keep helping your child to face their challenges
Do not avoid things or situations just because you know your child will be anxious about it. Avoiding such situations will not help your child in the long run.
However, do know their boundaries. Sometimes a child can cry not because they are being manipulative but rather feeling comfortable. Always comfort and reassure them that they are safe.
Over time they will have a coping mechanism that works for them.
3. Set goals and expectations
A child can feel anxious especially when they are in school when they do not have goals and clear expectations. Goal setting activities can help a child understand what they want to achieve and how they will achieve it.
Express confidence in your child and let them know that there is nothing wrong in failing or not achieving their goals. There will always be setbacks. You can use real-life examples of how successful people fail but eventually succeeded through determination.
You might think your child’s fear is unreal. But we all have different fears. Be empathetic towards their fears but also at the same time do not amplify it.
Instead, try to help her understand that sometimes worries might not necessarily become a reality. You can write down their worries with them at the end of the day and then pick the right words that will make it go away. Use the exercise sheet below. It has many other anxiety management activities.
5. Help your child express their feelings.
Rather than asking leading questions, for instance, ” Are you worried to go to school tomorrow”, ask them an open-ended question: ” How are you feeling about school tomorrow?”
This will encourage your child to talk about their feelings. Sometimes even with such open-ended questions, a child might not be willing to talk about emotions.
Using the right journaling queues your child can draw or reflect on their emotions. You can check out the Growth Mindset Kit which consist of daily journaling pages aimed at helping kids reflect on their feelings.
6. Let your child know they are loved
Appreciate your child and use positive affirmations with them on a daily basis. Let them know that you appreciate the effort they are making in trying to deal with their anxiety.
Sometimes when your child is feeling anxious or worried they may think that they are not good enough. You can have your child write down fun things they did with their family each week. This can be a reminder for your child on how much their family loves him.
Check out THE GROWTH MINDSET KIT which has activities for kids to start loving themselves and face challenges with confidence
7. Think about different scenarios with your child
It can help your child if you think about situations in which their worries come true- how would your child handle it? For example, a child who is afraid about what other people think about them might be worried about their appearances. So we talk about that.
If someone says something unpleasant, what would you do? “Well, I would learn to ignore, walk away and find better friends.” And what if you get bullied for it? “Well, I would tell Mom and report it to the school.”
This is just an example, you can walk through your child’s anxiety with them and think about different scenarios to resolve it. This will help ease their mind.
8. Model positive ways of managing anxiety.
The best thing you can do for your child is to show them how you handle anxiety.
Kid’s watch what their parents are doing and will take it every small thing that you do.
Talk about your own anxiety with your child and also the calming strategies that you use.
By showing them your fears you help them connect with you and they can feel even more open to talking to you about their worries.
HOW TO HELP A CHILD WHO IS ANXIOUS ABOUT SCHOOL?
The summer has ended and the kids are sharpening their pencils and packing their clean backpack.
A lot of excitement at this time of the year when children are finding out which friends will be in the same class.
But that excitement is not for every child. For some children going back to school can cause anxiety and stress.
Some kids will start worrying about homework, passing exams or even if they will make new friends.
This period can be particularly difficult for kids transitioning from middle school to high school.
5 Ways To Manage With Back-to-School Anxiety
Find out the basic information about the next academic year. For example :
Library opening hours
End of term exams
Visit the school playground and meet up with teachers and other students
Let them know it’s ok to worry
At the first week of the school itself, let your child know what to expect. For instance, if your child is going to high school then let them know that life in high school can sometimes be a bit difficult but the key is to find the right set of friends.
Let your child know if at any time they are worried or feeling isolated that they can always come and speak to you at any time.
Most importantly let your children know that it is normal to feel worried.
Was someone kind to your child or did your child showed kindness to anyone?
Did anything upset them during the day?
Their plans for tomorrow.
4. Be Connected
Try to add this to your morning routine :
Say “I Love You” to your child every day before they go to school
Use essential oils that can help them stay calm
Print out a motivational quote and stick it in their room
And finally, pay attention to your own behavior. If you are an anxious parent then your child can sense that.
Children take cues from their parents. The confident and calm you can model, the more your child will believe they can overcome anything that comes in their way.
Be supportive but firm.
When saying goodbye in the morning say it with positivity.
If your child is nervous then talk to them calmly. It can go something like this “I see that school is making you scared, but you still have to go. Tell me what is bothering you and we can talk about it.”
5. Create a study plan
Having a simple study plan can be useful for kids that are worried about keeping up with homework, exams, and deadline.
8 THINGS TO NEVER SAY TO YOUR ANXIOUS CHILD:
According to PSYCOM, when a child is feeling anxious parents may see things that can dismiss a child’s feelings. Here are a list of words that has been suggested to avoid during chronic anxiousness:
The worry won’t go away by telling her to stop worrying. By telling her to not worry it is implying that her worries are unreasonable.
Instead, say this: Can you tell me more about what is worrying you?
It’s not a big deal
For an anxious child their worries is a big deal. It is affecting their lives and relationships. Hence, it is a big deal.
Instead, say this: I can see you are feeling anxious, let’s take a few deep breathes together
You will be ok
Anyone that has experienced an anxiety attack knows that being told you will be fine might not be the best thing to hear.
Kid’s can be afraid about things that may seem unreasonable for you. Just like how I am afraid of butterflies. If someone tells me don’t be afraid when I see one it is not going to get rid of that fear.
However, PSYCOM emphasis the need for having conversations to help get rid of fears.
Instead, say this: Le’ts talk about it.
Let me do it for you
I understand as parents we always want to fix things for our kids. Seeing them worry brings in our protective feelings. But doing things for them will not help them learn the coping mechanisms of managing anxiety.
Instead, say this : What can I do to help you get through this?
This can cause an embarrassment in your child. They are overthinking because they are anxious. I am sure that can happen to any of us.
Instead, say this: Let’s breakdown your thoughts. And try to turn things to be more positive.
Again, you can use positive affirmations here or even motivational quotes to help them think positively. Check out Motivational Quotes made especially for kids.
24 PHRASES TO CALM DOWN AN ANXIOUS CHILD:
Can you scribble or draw what is worrying you.
I love you, you are safe here
Let’s take a deep breathe together
I can do this, I have got help
I am a warrior and unstoppable
This fear will go away
This feeling will go away
Talk to me about your fears
Close your eyes, and picture this_____
Lets do something fun together to calm down
You are not alone
I understand your feelings
Let’s breakdown those thoughts
Le’t think of all the good things you did this week
Let’s think of all the people who love you
Let’s go for a walk together
How can I help you?
You are so brave
How can I support you?
Let me hold you
Let’s write a new story
Can I hold your hand?
Can we write this worry in a journal and close it?