Wednesday, 14 September 2016

How to deal with anxiety in children

None of us wants to see a child unhappy, but the best way to help kids overcome anxiety isn’t to try to remove stressors that trigger it. It’s to help them learn to function as well as they can, even when they’re anxious. And as a bi-product of that, the anxiety will decrease or fall away over time.

Remember: the goal isn’t to eliminate anxiety, but to help a child manage it.

It is natural to feel anxious when dealing with changes to our usual routine – starting school is a good example of one of these changes. Often, your child won’t know the words to explain what they’re feeling, but if any of the following is becoming an issue, chances are your child is anxious about something:

  • Being clingy and having tantrums 
  • Not wanting to go out or spend time with their friends
  • Worrying about things that they’ve previously not mentioned
  • Complaining about ‘not feeling well’

We’ve developed six top tips to help guide your child through times of change and help manage their anxiety.

1. Don’t avoid things just because they make a child anxious

Helping children avoid the things they're afraid of may make them feel better in the short term, but in the long run it just reinforces the anxiety. It is normal for a child in an uncomfortable situation to get upset. They’re not being manipulative; they just need help to deal with the situation. If we shield them from their fears they will never build personal resilience, which can only lead to problems as they get older.

2. Create a soothing routine at home

Children seek comfort in what they know and understand to be true. During times of change, such as starting school, the most effective thing you can do at home, is keep your home routine as regular as possible. It provides a constant to the child and helps them understand that while some things may change in their lives, other things remain exactly the same. This helps them contain their anxiety and manage their feelings.

3. Help them to visualise success

Talk to your children about the positive outcomes relating to the changes they’re experiencing. Meeting new people means making new friends; additional homework is an opportunity to learn new information; every problem is just an opportunity when reframed and presented back to us.

4. Rest up

It can be hard dealing with a child who is going through an anxious phase in their life. Remember that the best thing you can do is keep things together. Get plenty of sleep and rest so that you are ‘present’ and able to deal with their questions, reservations and uncertainties. It can be draining – so you’ve got to be physically and mentally prepared to deal with it.

5. Get organised

Set time aside in the morning to address your ‘to do’ list and return emails. These are tasks that often get addressed at night and often take us away from spending time with our children, when they most need it. Keep them busy. Get them involved in your day to day routine too – have them empty the dishwasher, pair up the socks or make their own lunch – this helps them see that there’s more to life than what they’re anxious about.

6. Have Fun

It may not seem right to have fun when your child is in an anxious state, but it definitely is! Everyone needs to recharge their batteries. It’s okay to say to your child: “I need to take time out so I have lots more energy to help you.” This is good parenting. Your down time can include your child too – do the things that make you smile together; spend time doing activities you both enjoy – this will help you AND your child remember that anxiety is not the only thing going on.

Child anxiety is tricky to deal with, but we all go through it. Keep focused, keep grounded and you can weather the storm together, coming out stronger the other side.

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