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Anxiety in Children – How You Can Help Your Child Cope

Written by Melanie

February 19, 2021

Anxiety in Children

Just like grown-ups, children can sometimes feel worried, uncertain, and afraid. Anxiety in children is a scourge in today’s society.

Sometimes, feelings of anxiety in children are heightened and this can interfere with your child’s routine and behaviour. And when this happens, and it can have crippling effects on your child’s life.

Anxiety in children affects one in every five children by the time they become adolescents. For some children, this feeling goes away with time.

For others, however, things only get worse as they get older. Unfortunately, the latter is more likely to happen if the child does not get the help he/ she needs.

This article will explore childhood anxiety, its causes, how to identify it, and how to help your child cope if they are affected.

What Can Make your child Anxious?

There is likely to be more than one reason why your child could be anxious. So it’s vital to offer support as you look for the root cause.

Here are some of the common things or situations which may cause anxiety:

  • Feeling overwhelmed. The child may feel pressured because of a lot of school work. Also, your child may feel pressured by his/ her peer group.
  • Separation anxiety. You’ll see a classic example of this with infants and toddlers (6 months to 3 years). They cry and become clingy when they have to part with their parents or caregivers.   
  • In some cases, the child may be overburdened by responsibilities that they are not ready for yet, for example when they have to take care of a family member at a young age.
  • Sometimes, exposure to a new environment may cause anxiety. 
  • Also, a child is likely to feel anxious when he/ she has gone through a traumatic experience like witnessing or being a victim of abuse or a house fire.
  • Anxiety can be heightened if the child is having trouble at home like when the parents are having marital issues.

How To Detect Anxiety In Children

Signs in Young Children

Younger children are not as emotionally aware and it may be even harder for them to express themselves if they are suffering from anxiety.

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However, here are some of the signs you might notice:

  • They have a harder time sleeping, and they might wake up in the middle of the night. 
  • The children experience frequent nightmares.
  • They may start wetting the bed.
  • The child is clingier, cries a lot, and is very fussy.

Signs in Older Children

  • They shy away from activities they used to enjoy before.
  • They lack the enthusiasm to try new things or even to perform simple everyday tasks.
  • They lose their appetite
  • Their sleeping patterns change.
  • They are easily distracted.
  • Having angry outbursts.

If a child has anxiety and they are not supported, they may develop some coping mechanisms to help them manage their anxiety.

Some of these are:

  • Drug and substance abuse.
  • Eating disorders – eating too much or too little.
  • Repetitive behaviour or actions.
  • Self-harm.

How to Help Your Child Cope With Anxiety

The way you approach your child’s anxiety will directly influence how well they’ll cope with it.

For them to manage it, they need healthy coping mechanisms.

Here are some tips that can be helpful both in an emergency and in the long term.

In an Emergency

Sometimes, your child may get a panic attack and you won’t have a lot to help them calm down.

At this time, your child may feel worried, or even frightened.

Here are some of the strategies you can use to help them feel safe and relaxed:

1. Breathing exercises

When our bodies experience anxiety, stress, or anger, the breathing becomes more shallow and the muscles become tenser.

Help your child take deep breaths to help him/ her relax. 

2. Engage all the Senses

Keeping your child’s senses active will help to connect them more to the now, therefore, reducing the anxiety.

Help them to list 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.

3. Offer Reassurance

Sit close to them and reassure them that they’ll feel better. You can also offer physical reassurance by holding their hand or hugging them.

Longer-term Strategies

These are tools that will help your child to find a healthy coping mechanism for their anxiety.

These ideas will help them manage their situation better. Also, they’ll be able to deal with anxiety attacks independently when they happen.

Here they are;

1. Open Communication

Talk to your child about what anxiety is and what it does to our bodies. Also, engage them about how they feel both emotionally and physically.

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Don’t dismiss these feelings in an attempt to reassure them. Instead, let them know that their feelings are valid.

2. Find the CAUSE

Think of some of the reasons that might be causing your child’s anxiety. They could be worrying about school or their friendships or about things that are out of their control. 

Sometimes, anxiety is caused by negative thoughts. This negative reinforcement usually leads to low self-esteem.

Teach your child to identify these negative thoughts by writing down some of the ones they have often.

Go on to ask them to question the truth of these thoughts and finally, replace that thought with a positive one.

Finally, show your child to treat him/ herself with more compassion and saying kind words to themselves. This exercise will help them to calm themselves down in situations where you are not available to offer reassurance.

Seek Professional Assistance

If you notice that your child has had anxiety for more than two weeks or that the anxiety is getting in the way of your child’s daily life, it is time to speak to a child psychologist.

Anxiety has different symptoms in different individuals, so the treatment methods vary. This includes therapy sessions but sometimes, there can be medication.

Always Encourage Healthy Behavior

Motivate your child to take up activities that benefit their overall health. Encourage them to exercise, eat well, hydrate, sleep enough or read more.

Also, help them to cut down on habits like taking caffeine or using too much social media. 

Spending time with friends and family members, even for a short while, will also help your child feel cared for and it will help keep them from worrying.

Final Thoughts

Anxiety in children is more prevalent today than ever before. The good news, though, is that with proper intervention, it can be managed and your child can learn to deal with it in a healthy way, allowing them to lead a normal, fulfilled life.

Just remember that if you notice anxiety-related behavior in your child for more than 2 weeks, it might be time to seek additional help.

Good luck!

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