Anxiety in children can range from minor worrying to intense anxiety, where they start to avoid doing things and going places. Here are things to try if your child is suffering with anxiety or worrying:
- Listen to your child, encourage them to share their worries and then acknowledge their feelings. Sometimes, children just want to be heard and for their problems to be understood and recognised. Often, sharing the worry can help to get it out of their head and stop it appearing so big.
- Think about the worst case scenario – if your child is worrying about something in the future, ask them what they think the worst case scenario will be. Then, come up with solutions so that they know even if that happens (however unlikely), they have a strategy to deal with it. For example, if they are worrying about starting a new club and the worst case scenario is being left on their own, a possible solution would be for you to ask the club leader if they can give your child a buddy to look after them for their first visit.
- Help your child to understand that some worries don’t belong to them e.g. grown up worries that belong to parents, or school worries which belong to their teacher are not their responsibility.
- Try a worry box – this works especially well with children who bottle up their worries and don’t like to talk about them. Have a special box where your child can write their worries to send them away (again, this will help the child get the worry out their head). Remove the paper from the box each night.
- Remind children that worrying won’t change or control the situation or outcome – it only makes them feel worse.
- Try the hot air balloon exercise – ask your child to close their eyes and imagine they are in a field on a sunny day with a hot air balloon and the basket on the grass next to them. Ask them to put all of their worries and concerns, one by one, into the basket of the balloon until they have no worries left in their head. Then, gradually imagine that the hot air balloon is getting ready to take off and the basket is lifting off the ground, getting further and further away until it is a tiny dot on the horizon. The balloon can stay up in the sky, giving your child a break from their worries. A great exercise for children who can’t get off to sleep because they are worrying.
- Help your child understand the physical symptoms of anxiety – I find using the image of tiny soldiers in their body, a child-friendly way of helping them understand the flight or fight response.
e.g. The feeling of butterflies in their tummy or nausea is because the tiny soldiers in their body who were trying to help them digest their food have now been sent off to their arm and leg muscles to help them fight or run. This leaves their tummy feeling empty, like it has lots of butterflies flying around inside it and can make them feel sick.
The feeling of sweaty palms, dizziness and finding it hard to breathe is because the tiny soldiers run to their heart to help it pump more blood around their body. As well as this, their breathing changes from their tummy to their chest as it speeds up to give more oxygen to the muscles in their arms and legs but it can make them feel dizzy, hot and like they can’t breathe properly. To make sure their body doesn’t feel too hot, it then starts to sweat.
The feeling that they can’t think straight for worries is because the tiny soldiers in their brain (who are normally separated into two camps – the feeling camp and the thinking camp) all run into the feeling camp, leaving the thinking camp without anyone to help it think clearly. This means all the emotions and fears crowd their whole brain. It can feel like a snowball of worries, getting bigger and bigger with each worry.
- Help your child to learn how to tummy breathe to calm them down – Ask them to imagine that their tummy is a balloon and if they gently put their hand on their tummy as they breathe in through their nose, they can feel it gently blow up a little bit. Then when they breathe out through their mouth, they can feel their tummy go back down (just like when air escapes out of a balloon).
- Try not to allow your child to avoid situations or events due to anxiety as this allows their anxiety and worries to snowball and get even bigger. Try to encourage your child to go to the event or place for half an hour and see how they feel. Often, once they are there, they feel ok and are happy to stay or try another half an hour but if not, praise them for not giving into the anxiety and giving it a go.
- Take your child for a walk or for a kick of a football around the garden to get them out of their head and out into nature. Doing some exercise will also help to get rid of the additional adrenaline in their body.
- Talk to your child’s teacher, particularly if they are anxious or worried about school. Hopefully, you can work together on strategies to help your child both in and out of school. There may also be someone who they can talk to in school.
Please note: I am not a medical professional; these are just some tips and ideas to try. If you are concerned about your child, please speak to their GP who will be able to advise you further.