Seven Ways To Reduce Anxiety In Children

The number of children experiencing anxiety and stress seems to be increasing.  Schools frequently report that there are more anxious students now than there were five or ten years ago. Consequently, parents are often looking for ways to help their children become calmer, and question whether their child’s response to certain events is out of the ordinary.

When is anxiety normal?

A certain level of anxiety and stress are a normal reaction to unfamiliar, dangerous or stressful situations.  For example, it’s normal for a child to be anxious on their first day at school, just before an exam or during a class performance.  However, parents are right to be concerned when their child experiences feelings of stress and anxiety chronically (that is, almost all the time), or are experienced at such a high level that they interfere with the child’s ability to function in everyday life.  For example, an anxious child might constantly experience feelings of panic, and try to avoid anything that might trigger their anxiety (such as going to school or talking in front of a group).

What can I do to help my child?

  1. If you suspect your child may be struggling with anxiety then seek professional guidance.  Consult a GP or child psychologist.
  2. Ensure you’ve got the basics covered – is your child is eating a balanced diet? Are they getting 10 – 11 hours of sleep per night? Are they exercising daily?
  3. Teach your child relaxation strategies such as meditation or yoga.
  4. Work out what your child’s triggers are, such as changes in routine, and decipher their warning signs, such as increased irritability or starting arguments with siblings.
  5. Reduce after school activities as much as possible while your child is anxious.  Symptoms often diminish when children feel less pressured and/or scheduled.
  6. Help your child to express themselves by asking open ended questions such as: What was that like for you? How did that feel? What happened then? If ‘10’ was really worried and ‘1’ was really calm, what number would you be?
  7. Avoid rushing in with a solution and telling your child what to do.  Once your child has got a problem off their chest, then you can ask them if they would like some help.

As a mother and step-mother of four boys, I know how distressing it can be to see your child suffer.  Nothing can substitute for peace of mind, so if you are worried about your child then ask for help and everyone’s anxiety – yours included – will improve!

By Emma Bevan for Emma Bevan Child Psychologist

Six Ways To Help Your Anxious Child Sleep

Sleep is so important, particularly for children, as they do most of their growing at night while sleeping. Most children aged between 5 –12 should be getting between 10 – 12 hour per night. There are exceptions to this rule, some kids just don’t need that much, but generally speaking 10 – 12 hours is the ideal.

Often if a child is struggling with anything in their lives, falling asleep at night becomes more difficult for them. This then has a flow on effect because with less sleep, they are less able to cope with daily activities, they are then more likely to act out, and/or become more anxious, which then makes it harder for them to get to sleep the next night. Slowly, over time, their behaviour can deteriorate where it then becomes difficult to tell whether their acting out is due to a real issue or is just sleep deprivation. Most of us have had some experience with sleep deprivation and know how quickly we can unravel when we haven’t had enough sleep. Kids are the same.

If your child is struggling to fall asleep, here are some ideas to help your child settle and sleep at night:

  • Develop a consistent nighttime routine. A consistent routine gives your child the right cues that it is time to wind down and go to sleep.
  • Don’t allow computer games at least 1 hour before bedtime. Computer games are very stimulating and do not promote a sleepy, relaxed mood which is needed for sleep.
  • Put some relaxing music on. For children who find it hard to stop thinking, having music to listen to can be a healthy distraction from their thoughts.
  • Spray Lavendar oil on the bed. Lavender oil has been shown to have a calming effect and improve sleep in some children.
  • Check your child doesn’t have any respitory issues, blocked noses or asthma can make it much harder to sleep. A vapourizer can often help with these issues.
  • Have a ‘tuck in conversation’ where you ask about their day, what they are looking forward to tomorrow and what they are grateful for.

There are many reasons why a child might not be settling at night, and this can often be a symptom of a deeper issue. So, if you have been struggling to settle your child at night for quite some time it is worthwhile consulting your GP or a child psychologist to assess whether your child’s sleep issue is part of a bigger problem. A good night’s sleep is definitely worth pursuing as not only will your child’s quality of life improve, but fewer tantrums and a calmer child will help your quality of life too!

By Emma Bevan for Emma Bevan Child Psychologist

Children living happy lives with positive psychology.

What Parents Can Do To Boost Their Child’s Happiness

Over recent years researchers have identified a number of different practices that can increase levels of happiness and decrease feelings of depression and anxiety. One of these exercises is called ‘3 Good Things’. Positive psychologists Martin Seligman and Tracy Steen found that when people thought about 3 Good Things that had happened in their day, and why they had happened, their levels of happiness improved over time.

When it finally gets to the end of the day it can be easy to think about all the things that have been frustrating or we have failed to achieve. However, making the conscious shift to consider 3 Good Things that happened in your day and why they happened can be a proactive way to reflect positively on the day. You can try it with your children too. Here are a couple of ideas to help you incorporate this practice into family life:

1. Mealtimes

When you are eating dinner, turn the TV off, and ask each family member in turn to list 3 Good Things about their day and why they happened. Offer praise and encouragement such as “Well isn’t that fantastic, you had a great time with your friends because you were all taking it in turns”, or “So you finished your house in Minecraft because you were patient and persisted”.

2. Make up a Nighttime Card

This works best with younger children. Ask your child to help you make a poster titled ‘My Nighttime Card’. On the poster write ‘What were 3 Good Things about my day?’. If your child finds it too difficult to work out why these things happened, try adding to the card two more questions such as “When did I feel loved today? And when did I feel happy today?”. Put the Nighttime Card on the wall next to where they sleep and then go through the questions at night as part of your nighttime routine.

3. Try texting

Younger children will often be quite easy to engage in the above activities, however as children get older they are less likely to want to communicate face to face and tend to find the above exercises ‘embarrassing’. Christine Carter, the author of Raising Happiness, says that she and her teenage children now text their 3 Good Things to each other, as they refuse to do it face to face. So rather than not do it at all, she texts them at the end of the day as a way of staying in touch and continuing to teach them to be positive.

See how you go with these exercises because even just a little bit more happiness is a good thing!

By Emma Bevan for Emma Bevan Child Psychologist