Helping Children Cope with Anxiety

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Sweaty palms and that feeling in the pit of your stomach – perhaps you have a job interview, a big meeting, are moving house or are dealing with a relationship conflict. All these things and more can induce feelings of anxiety in us as adults.

With so many big issues facing us, it can be easy to forget that little people face big issues too. Peer pressure, changes in home life and the prospect of returning to school are just a few potential sources of anxiety in children.

‘Normal’ anxiety is a healthy and typical human response to stressful situations. However, when it starts to effect everyday functioning, children can need some additional support to deal with their feelings.
Anxiety can present itself in children in many different ways. Depending on their emotional maturity, it can be a lot harder for kids to identify and process their anxious feelings. Symptoms may seem inexplicable and in some cases may appear as though something is physiologically wrong. As parents it can be hard to interpret the signs when something is bothering our kids.

For example, when my son experienced urinary and digestive problems last year, it took a lot of specialist investigations before we realised the culprit was actually anxiety as a result of bullying at school.
With changes in routine over the holidays and the imminent return to school, now is a good time to check in with your children to see if everyone is travelling ok. Back to school in particular can be a source of anxiety for children, for a number of reasons:

– Uncertainty about a new teacher
– Changes in classroom environment & routine
– New set of peers in class
– Separation from close friends
– Possible changes in peer dynamics over the break

Here are some things that might flag your child is feeling anxious. Please note that this list is by no means definitive, nor exhaustive.

Behavioural
– School refusal or withdrawal from holiday activities
– Clinginess
– Irritability
– Reluctance to try new things
– Has lots of worries
– Catastrophising – jumping to worst possible conclusions
– Obsessive behaviours
– Other out of character behaviours

Physical
– Inability to sleep
– Frequent urination
– Diarrhoea
– Stomach cramps
– Headaches
– Nausea
– Lack of appetite

If your child is showing some of these symptoms and you suspect the cause is anxiety, here are some things you can try:

Talk it out.
Acknowledge their concerns. Do not dismiss your child’s anxious feelings or ignore them. Try to get them to talk about the issues that are bothering them and recognise what makes them anxious. Let them know that everyone gets anxious at times, and perhaps give examples of when you have felt that way and what you did to overcome it.

Sometimes our children worry about things that aren’t their problem or are out of their control. They may be worried about family finances or somebody else’s health. Teach them to identify when worries aren’t their responsibility and what they need to let go of.

Teach coping strategies.
Teach your child how to calm themselves in the moment by practicing breathing techniques. Getting your child to rate how anxious they feel or how risky a situation is can be another way to help them put things into perspective.

Build a toolkit.
– Books: There are lots of great books available to help discuss feelings and anxiety with kids. The Huge Bag of Worries, by Virginia Ironside is a great one that shows everyone has worries but they don’t need to weigh you down.
– Apps: There are some great meditation apps available to help kids with mindfulness and relaxation which can be great if you child is having trouble getting to sleep.
– A toy: You could try giving your child a private outlet for their anxious feelings, like a special toy to tell their worries to. There are ones designed specifically for this purpose, like the Little Wuppy or old school Worry Dolls. Or you could just nominate a special stuffy from the toy box at home. Encourage your child to tell their toy their worries and then let go of those anxious thoughts.

Get help.
If your child’s worries are having a big impact on their day to day life, it might be time to discuss options with your GP to get some further professional support. It is important to note any atypical behaviours or symptoms to help your health care team put together a complete picture of what is going on for your child.
As a parent it can be difficult seeing your child in an anxious state. By proactively supporting them and teaching them how to identify and manage their worries, you will help build their resilience and give them a valuable grounding for dealing with anxiety for the rest of their lives.

Article Written By Renee Meier

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Being a mum to 3 kids (one of them full time at home with me) and trying to juggle everything became pretty crazy.

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