Children's anxiety

All children and young people have fears and worries. These could include a fear of the dark, getting lost or abandoned. These anxious feelings can also be in response to a major change or stressful event - for example, starting at a new school or moving to a new house. These fears and worries are quite normal, however, there may be a cause for concern when they affect your child’s thoughts and behaviours on a daily basis. Your child might not want to take part in school and home life or participate in social activities.

Child at school

Anxiety in children

Anxiety presents itself in different ways depending on the child or young person. School aged children who are anxious may show it in their behaviours.

They may;

— appear timid — stay close to their parents or caregivers when they are around other adults or children

— struggle to engage in play with children their own age.

Bedtime can also be an unsettling time for children who are anxious. They might have difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep. Their sleep might be interrupted by nightmares and they may need a lot of reassurance and comfort from parents or caregivers.

Upset Child

Physical reactions

Anxiety can cause physical reactions in children. For example, a child might complain of a headache or a stomach ache. In more extreme cases of anxiety, children can experience panic attacks. They may feel any or all of the following;

— their heart rate may quicken

— they may find it hard to breathe

— they may think they’re about to die.

These things can be very scary for children and they need loving, encouraging parents or caregivers to help them manage their worries and fears.

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How to manage anxiety?

Anxious children and young people often show behaviours that can be stressful for parents or caregivers. These behaviours should be seen as ‘careseeking’ rather than ‘attention-seeking’. Parents or caregivers need to be patient with their children and understand that it is anxiety that is triggering these difficult behaviours. They need to talk calmly and reassure their children wherever possible.

 

When anxious feelings take over, it can feel scary and even life-threatening for a child or young person, especially when experiencing an extreme form of anxiety such as a panic attack. These feelings can seem overwhelming and the child may not be able to think clearly. Parents or caregivers need to be supportive and reassure their children that the feelings they are experiencing in their bodies are physical symptoms of their anxiety and will not harm them.

Talking to your child

Examples of strategies for managing anxiety

— Make time to talk to your child. Listen to your child and accept that their worries are very real for them. Explain that worries are normal and everybody has them from time to time.

— Try and get your child to spend less time on worries by creating a ‘worry box’ and arranging ‘worry time’.

— Encourage your child to talk back to their worries. Agreeing a ‘code name’ for the worry, for example ‘The Annoying Grape’, may make the worry feel more manageable.

— Get your child to do something fun to distract them from their worries. — Help your child to make a list of things that went right in their day to help them develop an optimistic outlook.

— Support your child to focus on what they can do, rather they what they can’t do. Encouraging them to say ‘I can’ will promote more positive thinking.

The activities provided here are from our Talk Time service and are designed to give you more confidence to support your child as you work together to explore feelings of anxiety.