Anxious Children and How You Can Help Them

When you instinctively know

If you have children you may well know that anxious feeling of when your child says he has a tummy ache and wants to stay at home or doesn’t want to catch the bus and continually complains of a headache. As a mum you’re not quite sure what’s going on but you instinctively know he’s not happy but you don’t know why?

When do you say enough is enough?

Then the ‘odd tummy ache’ turns into a weekly occurrence with a totally forlorn face saying he’s just not going anymore. Now you are worried, this is getting to be a real nightmare. Do you know where I’m coming from? Too many parents go through this pain and suffering. So what do you do, force your child to get into the car saying, ‘You are going to school and that’s the end of it,’ or do you keep him off school yet again?

Finding the root cause

I can remember many years ago my youngest daughter, Sophie, didn’t want to go to school. For the first few months when she was 5 years old and the teacher kept saying, ‘She’s just homesick’. We discovered a few weeks later that she just worried about anything and everything and it became a real issue. We tried something that really helped her – we took Sophie to the shop and let her choose a special teddy which became her ‘Worry teddy’. At the end of the day she would say all of her worries to this special bear who would turn them all into solutions for her by the morning. This might work for you if you have younger children. She still has this little teddy today at 23 years old.

So how do you deal with it?

Here are some things you might like to try with your children if they are feeling anxious for whatever reason:

  • Try getting a ‘Worry Teddy’ like we did and let your child express their worries. If your children are older perhaps you could give them a journal to write down their worries. Only allow them around 15 minutes to do this so the ‘worry’ isn’t prolonged.
  • Don’t keep telling your child that it’s ok and everything will work out. They can’t process that information even if they wanted to. Simply because when the anxiety starts the ‘Fight or Flight’ instinct kicks in. This means that the logical part of the brain freezes whilst the automated part takes over. They can no longer think rationally so to ask them to understand simple task won’t work. Instead, you can really help them by taking some deep breaths with them and say, ‘Follow me’ as you breathe in deeply. Breathing is one of the responses that they can control to take back of their ‘power’. It will also start to reverse this Fight or Flight response. After a few breaths, your child will calm done so you can talk about the ‘worry’ rationally and stop them feeling anxious.
  • Don’t ignore their anxieties; they are real to them. You can explain to your child when they feel the anxiety rising in their bodies; ask them where they feel it. It will be somewhere in their body – maybe their tummy, their throat or perhaps in the heart area. Ask them to give it a colour and a shape, maybe they say a red ball and then ask them to change it to something they like, such as a blue square. As they change the object they take in a deep breath and the anxiety feeling will start disappearing.

    Now you’re getting somewhere

  • Teach your child to be aware of their thoughts – all they have to do is ‘watch’ their thoughts and when they find a negative or a ‘bad’ thought they can challenge this thought. Is it real or just how they feel? For example one little girl said last week, ‘No one likes me in this school’ but in reality what happened was she couldn’t find anyone to play with at lunch time. She’s learning that those feelings are not giving a true reading for what’s going on. So she’s happy to challenge her thoughts now she understands what is happening.
  • If you continually find your child worrying about the future mindfulness is a great tool to bring them back to the here and now. Breathing is by far the easiest and best tool we have for this. Ask you child to purely focus on their breathing when they feel the ‘anxiety’ feeling, this gives them back their control of their minds and also focuses them on the present moment.
  • Chunking down – this is something I did with my kids which they’ve all carried on doing through life, it has helped them to try things and not avoid them altogether. If your child wants to escape events such as school, social events or going on a plane that’s because the ‘Fight or Flight’ response has kicked in, tells them not to go keeping them ‘safe’ from the ‘threat’ of danger. You can ‘chunk’ this down by breaking it down into ‘bite-sized’ pieces. Perhaps if they don’t want to go to a party without, stay with them for the first half an hour, if they don’t want to go to a friends’ house, perhaps stay for the first hour and then leave. Slowly introduce them to the situation so they understand it is ‘safe’ to stay alone.

You’re not the first parent to go through this

You are not alone if your child is suffering and you did not cause their anxiety. Most parents go through this at some stage or another in their child’s life. It’s how you handle the situation that could make all the difference. An Anxious child can be very frustrating for a parent so remind yourself that it is a combination of things, past events, genes, traumatic episodes in their life, their environment so it isn’t about you.
Helping your child to overcome anxiety could be one the greatest gifts you give to them, show compassion and teach by example. You are your child’s world; love yourself, by loving yourself they will learn to do the same.