What is over worry or anxiety? It is thinking negatively, future pacing the worst-case scenarios and causing us harm with these thoughts. It can prevent us from doing normal things we should be doing or it can interfere with our daily life.
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Research tells us many children learn their worrying and anxiety from parents. If you are concerned about your child being anxious or over worrying, firstly look at the modelling from yourself and your partner. If either of you are worriers or display anxious behaviours, it is always faster to adjust your child’s behaviour if you can adjust your responses first.
Worrying can be a minor annoyance or have a major effect on a child. If you find your child is continually worrying about things that have either occurred or that may or not occur and this worry is debilitating your child then Counselling is the best advice. Even if parents speak to their child about these worries, a child may not open up as easy to a parent as they will to a Counsellor or stranger. Children can fear they are letting down their parents, so often they will cover them up or pretend they are minor.
A degree of fearful and anxious behaviour is common in many children and most learn to cope with a range of normal fears and worries.
It becomes an issue for the child if:
– The child feels anxious more than other children of their age
– Anxiety stops them participating in activities at school or socially with friends
– Interferes with their ability to do things that other children their age do easily
– The fears and worries are out of proportion to the issues in their life
– Is unable to leave the parent and socialise or attend care or school easily
How Anxiety Affects Children
The threat or danger they are concerned about can appear much greater than it actually is.
Children with anxiety may develop their own strategies to try to manage situations that cause them distress. Often this involves trying to avoid the situation or having a parent or other adult deal with it for them. Avoiding a situation makes it more likely that the child will feel anxious and be unable to manage it the next time. This behaviour makes it more difﬁcult for the child to cope with everyday stresses at home, at school and in social settings.
How Do You Notice Anxiety in Children?
– Fear and avoidance of a range of situations.
– Headaches and stomach-aches that seem to occur when the child has to do something that is unfamiliar or that they feel uneasy about.
– Sleep difﬁculties, including difﬁculty falling asleep, nightmares and trouble sleeping alone.
– A continued strong need for reassurance and praise from others
– Wanting things to be perfect and becoming overly frustrated and upset when things they do are not perfect enough
– Hesitant to ask for help for fear of seeming stupid or useless
– Fearful to join in a group discussion or participate in sports or games
– Regularly complaining of stomach-ache and headaches to avoid situations that escalate their anxiety feelings
– Displays irritability, difﬁculty concentrating and tiredness. Even after a good sleep
How Do We Help an Anxious Child?
– Improve your child’s coping skills by not dismissing their feelings but to help the child see that the situation they are worried about may not be as bad as they think.
– Show the child how you cope positively with feeling anxious or stressed and remaining calm and positive when feeling anxious
– Encourage your child to try – continue to explain the result does not matter, it is the trying that is the important step, the outcome is not so important.
– Every step is a win so do not take over for them. Parents often want to make their child’s life easier, for an anxious child this is not helpful.
– Set small challenges for the child, eg: put own shoes and socks on, do up buttons, spell a new word, throw a ball into a hoop, read out loud in a group… any small challenge the child can face helps them understand they may not get it right immediately or even with fear they can do it; it is a process.
– If your child displays anxiety when you leave them, kiss and cuddle them, reassure you will be back soon, smile and leave. No telling the child you will miss them. When returning arrive with a smile, cuddle and discuss their day or activities.
– Never discuss their worry or anxiety in front of them with anyone. Not a parent, teacher, family member. By discussing so the child can hear embeds these feelings as real.
– If the child is worried about something discuss the worst-case scenario (they will be thinking it) and anything better than that is a bonus. Often their worst scenario is not huge, place it into perspective for them. Do not dismiss their fears.
– Continually praise them for any step forward they make. Often their self-esteem and confidence level is low, assist them to build it up by finding positive areas, attributes and achievements you notice.
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