How do I know that my child is struggling with anxiety?
A child experiencing anxiety and anxious thoughts may:
- Seem nervous, tense, jumpy or on edge more than usual.
- Seem more overwhelmed by things they have previously managed well.
- Express obsessive worry/dread over events or activities.
- Have trouble sleeping.
- Lose their appetite.
- Struggle to concentrate.
- Be more tired than usual or grumpier than usual.
- Complain of the following physical symptoms:
- Heart beating very fast or think they are having a heart attack.
- Dry mouth.
- Trembling or feeling wobbly.
- Feeling dizzy or faint.
- Feeling very hot.
- Stomach cramps/or diarrhea/feeling sick or vomiting.
- Needing to pee more than usual.
How can I help relieve my child’s physical symptoms?
A child experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety may not be able to connect what’s happening in their body to their thoughts. Therefore, being told to “stop being anxious!” will make no sense to them and could potentially cause a bit of a feedback loop of anxiety. In this case, you can try to help them by:
- Get them to tell you what is happening in their body exactly, so you can learn to recognise anxiety symptoms coming on and they can learn to let you know when they are overwhelmed.
- Talking your child through a situation that you are aware might trigger anxious reactions – let them voice their fears but also be clear about how any adverse situations might be dealt with. For instance, if your child expresses that they are worried about going to school because they might feel sick, let them know that if that happens, they can go to the school nurse.
- Letting them know that it is okay that they feel this way, and that the feeling will pass.
- Holding their hand or hugging them if they will allow it; touch can be soothing.
- Teaching them some breathing techniques such as the ones Lily Jo teaches here.
- Employing mind distraction techniques to slow panic.
- Ask them to identify different things they see in the room, repeating the things they say.
- Ask them to tell you one 5 things they can see, 4 things they can touch, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell and one thing they can taste.
- Ask them to create a safe space in their mind: A mind palace! Maybe it’s an ideal home or a grandparents house, then ask them to give you a tour, or simply sit, imagining themselves in their mind palace.
If your child is continuing to struggle with anxiety, they might need a bit of professional help from your GP or from a counsellor.
How can I stop my child getting anxious?
We can’t ever stop our children experiencing anxiety, but we can help them manage anxious feelings when they arise and process them in healthy ways. Here are some ways you can help your child do that:
- Encourage your child to notice when they are anxious and vocalise it to you. “I feel anxious – my tummy hurts,” or “I feel anxious – my heart is beating too fast.” This is a good point for you to then encourage a conversation about why they think they might be feeling that way.
- If a child is struggling to vocalise their anxiety, encourage them to start a diary or a “worry book” to write down the anxious thoughts they have.
- Make a “worry Box.” This is a box that they can post worries in for up to a week, and then see if the worry is really worth worrying over. Young children will enjoy decorating the box and it helps them have control over the worries.
- Make a “jar of joy.” This is a jar filled with treat ideas, fun distracting activity ideas, affirmations and kind words. When a child is feeling anxious, they can take a “joy card” out of the jar to do.
- If a child develops a need for checking things compulsively, do not stifle it as this will only make the behaviour worse and they will feel the need to hide it. Instead, see if you can lessen the impulse by encouraging your child to count to ten before doing it, or delay the impulse until another time. For instance, if a child needs to click the lightswitch every time they leave the room, maybe have them “save up” their clicks for the whole day until then end of the day, when they can do a certain amount.
- Make sure your child has a lot of calming/distracting activities that you can use to minimize anxiety when it arrives. Perhaps help them by creating a list of activities for different places and times. For instance: At home a child can colour or read, on the bus a child can listen to music or play a game on their phone.
- Make sure your child is burning off their excess adrenaline through exercise so they are less likely to be anxious. Apart from extracurriculars and clubs, maybe also find some short exercise youtube videos that your child can use in the home when they are anxious too.
- If you can, ensure your child is living a lifestyle that reduces stress hormones: good sleeping habits, a calming bedtime routine, limited screen time before sleeping, and good nutrition, avoiding too many stimulating substances. (Too much caffeine or sugar).
What can I do when I feel like I’m over my head?
- Remember: It’s normal to feel like that. This is a difficult and challenging time, and it’s okay to feel overwhelmed.
- Find support for you; don’t shut yourself off from help and be honest about your own feelings.
- Don’t blame yourself.
- Be hopeful. You are not alone.
Videos and Games
that can help with anxiety
Where anxiety comes from
This video explains where anxiety comes from.
Sounds that help me relax
Sometimes weird sounds help me relax! I like to listen to ASMR like this: