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?
- If you suspect your child may be struggling with anxiety then seek professional guidance. Consult a GP or child psychologist.
- 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?
- Teach your child relaxation strategies such as meditation or yoga.
- 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.
- Reduce after school activities as much as possible while your child is anxious. Symptoms often diminish when children feel less pressured and/or scheduled.
- 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?
- 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!