Anxiety is a body’s response to stress, and it can impact not only adults but children too. For example, if your child is starting at a new school or giving a speech, they may feel anxious or nervous about it. This is completely normal. However, if you’re noticing anxious feelings that are lasting for long periods of time (weeks or months), or extreme bouts of anxiety, this could be a sign of something more.
According to a recent study on student anxiety within a school setting, 71.3% of school-based support providers identified student anxiety within their top 5 student mental health concerns. To provide more equitable mental health services, however, more work is needed to improve identification of student anxiety and how to address it.
With minimal support for anxiety within schools, helping your child to manage their feelings of anxiety is often left to be managed at home. The way you respond to your child’s anxiety will make a huge difference in how they learn to cope with anxious feelings.
Anxiety can feel different for every child. Some might simply feel a little unsettled in their stomach, while others might be faced with a feeling of disconnect between their mind and body.
Their body may respond by having specific physical reactions such as:
As a parent, it’s important to be aware of how anxiety can present and be mindful of this when observing behaviours and feelings within your child.
It’s common for a parent to want to step in and prevent or relieve feelings of anxiety for their child. This is often not the most helpful approach as it doesn’t allow your child to develop the skills and strategies in overcoming anxiety independently.
Supporting them through these big feelings is a much better approach, as it allows them to cope with anxiety using skills they can take with them into adulthood:
When it comes to your child’s anxiety, be mindful of your parenting style and interactions with your child. It’s worth reading up on this topic to ensure you are not creating extra pressure or anxiety for them as they learn to manage and self-regulate these big feelings.
Finding activities that suit your child will depend on your child’s likes and dislikes. What works for one may not work for another.
These 3 things can be adapted to suit a range of children based on their needs:
Finding ways to help your child calm down when they’re feeling anxious can be challenging. If you’re out and about, it can be even more difficult. If you’re finding your child is getting worked up about something, try:
Some children may not be open to deep breathing as they can’t calm themselves long enough to feel the benefits. However, anxiety does make your body tense up, which causes it to switch to a fight or flight mode. When muscles tense up, the heart rate elevates. If this is happening with your child, try:
Creating a toolbox that works as a kit for calming your child down is a great idea. When they aren’t feeling anxious, get them to help you put one together so that they are more likely to use it when they need it:
The causes of anxiety disorders are still not 100% clear. Research suggests that it’s a combination of genetic and environmental factors, as well as brain chemistry, which controls the fear response. Stress, personality type, past trauma, race, life events, and medication are some other factors that may contribute to anxiety.
Whatever the reasons behind it are, if you believe your child is struggling with anxious feelings and you’re unsure how to help them, seek professional help as soon as possible. Creating a treatment plan that helps you to identify the symptoms and provide activities that relieve anxiety for your child will be beneficial to their wellbeing in the long run. It’s also a great step in the right direction when it comes to supporting them as they tackle these big feelings.