Children may experience anxiety during their life for a variety of reasons. Many of these anxious thoughts are quite normal. For example, between the ages of six months and three years old, children may experience separation anxiety. Separation anxiety can cause your child to cry and become insecure or feel unsafe when they are separated from his or her parents. Children may also develop phobias or fears. For example, a child may be afraid of the dark, storms, heights, water, and much more. These fears typically improve as the child grows older. Children can be anxious before taking a test, going to a new place, or meeting new people. Most of the time, these fears last a short time; however, if your child’s anxiety begins interfering with their everyday life or their anxiety continues for a long period of time, it can become a problem.
Symptoms of Anxiety in Children
A young child may not be able to express how they are feeling; therefore, it is essential that you know the signs of anxiety in children, which may include:
- Bad dreams
- Sleep problems
- Waking up during the night
- Abdominal pain/nausea
Older children may experience:
- Lack of confidence
- Concentration difficulties
- Eating concerns
- Angry outbursts
- Abdominal pain/nausea
- Negative thought patterns or fear that bad things are going to happen
- Avoiding everyday activities, i.e. hanging out with friends, going to school, going out in public
How to Help Your Anxious Child
Create a Worry Box – Purchase a fun/pretty box or create one using an empty facial tissue box. Have your child draw or write their worries down on a slip of paper and place them in the worry box. At the end of the day or the end of the week, go over their worries together to see which ones happened and which ones were imagined. Chances are most of their worries never came to pass.
Distract Them – Distraction is a great way to help reduce or eliminate anxiety. Distraction methods are especially helpful to young children who may have a difficult time expressing their feelings. If your child is anxious about going to school, play a game like I Spy on the way to school.
Role Playing – Young children learn and respond well to role playing. When acting out a situation that has happened in the past or that is expected to happen in the future, child learn how to process these events. This can help decrease feeling of nervousness and anxiety.
Encourage Your Child – When your child is dealing with anxiety, he/she can feel alone and overwhelmed. Letting your child know you are there for them and it is okay to ask for help, can minimize their feelings of loneliness and shame.
Prepare Your Child – If there are upcoming changes that you know about, talk with your child ahead of time. Explain to them what is going to happen, why it is happening, and discuss how it will affect them.
Read About It – If your child is experiencing anxiety due to separation or death, find books or films that are about these subjects. Watching or reading about others who are experiencing the same feelings can help minimize the stigma of anxiety.
Relaxation Techniques – Relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises, yoga, guided imagery, prayer, and meditation can help reduce or prevent anxiety. Teach your child how to practice one or more of these relaxation techniques to help counteract their anxiety.
Routines Can Help – Routines are reassuring and can help reduce the number of times your child feels anxious. Going to bed at the same time each night, getting up at the same time each day, eating dinner at the same time, etc. are easy ways to help reduce anxiety.
Talk to Your Child – If your child is anxious, there are several things you can do to help. First, talk with your child about their worries and what is causing their anxiety. Listen closely to them and assure them their feelings are valid and you understand. Allow your child to open up and tell you exactly what is causing their anxiety. If they are having difficulty putting their feelings into words, ask them specific questions like “Is going to school scary?” “Do you get scared and miss me when you are away from me?” As you talk with your child, you need to help them find solutions to the issues that are causing anxiety.
Teach Your Child – Teaching your child how to recognize the beginning signs of anxiety can help. When your child is able to recognize the signs of anxiety, they can seek out help or use the tools and techniques that they have been taught to deal with anxiety.
What Should Your Goals Be?
The goal of these techniques isn’t to completely eliminate anxiety; instead, it is to help teach your child how to manage anxiety. Although none of us want a child to feel anxious and unhappy, totally eliminating anxiety is almost impossible. Throughout life there will be periods of stress, by teaching your child how to manage anxiety and function throughout, you will be setting your child up for success.
Avoidance of a situation may make your child feel better short term; however, it actually reinforces anxiety in the long run. If you come to your child’s rescue and remove him/her from the situation every time, they will learn that the best coping mechanism is to run away rather than facing their fears. This coping mechanism can prevent your child from reaching their full potential.
Express the benefits and positive things that can happen. You should never tell your child that their fears are unrealistic or unwarranted; however, he/she has the skills to manage whatever comes their way. Doing this will help give your child the confidence he/she needs throughout life.
Think like a child. Sometimes, as an adult, we have difficulty relating to the fears our children have. Thinking like a child can increase your compassion and help you find new ways to communicate with your child.
How Can We Help?
Anxiety in children is not uncommon. It affects millions of children each year. Understanding what your child is going through and showing compassion can help your child overcome anxiety. Include the aforementioned techniques to help teach your child how to learn to effectively handle their anxiety. Overcoming anxiety is not always about eliminating everything that is causing anxiety; rather, it is not allowing anxiety to rule your life.
If anxiety persists, seek out professional help. Our practitioners use a holistic approach to integrative pediatric medicine. We understand that nutritional deficiencies and undiagnosed health conditions can impact your child’s thought processes and lead to anxiety issues.