Does your child have anxiety?

Do you suspect that your child is unhappy or feeling anxious or stressed? Here are some quick tips to help you investigate what is going on.

Anxiety is of course often a scary word. Anxiety is normally something we associate with adults going through a major crisis such as a divorce or redundancy. However, children and teens also feel anxious.  Children feel anxious since, though it may technically be your divorce or stressful episode, they are going through it as well. You may not see this directly but notice changes such as bed wetting, your child acting in a moody way, being withdrawn or quiet or perhaps finding it hard to work or concentrate at school.

Some children are of course open about how they feel. They will tell you that they feel anxious, or at least that they are very upset. However many children, when  anxious, may bottle it up and remain silent. For some children the anxiety will only be noticeable by his or her insomnia, poor behaviour, moodiness or lower marks at school.

Here are some quick tips to help a child who may be anxious or suffering from anxiety

= It is perfectly okay to simply ask directly how your child feels. In fact many children may assume that you somehow already know how they feel and so won’t tell you openly unless asked directly. Some children make this assumption and then feel even worse when not asked about what is going on. It can be useful to ask and also, as a side comment, mention that you cannot always guess what they are feeling. Of course say this in a loving way. Remember that asking your child directly shows them that you care about how they feel. Showing a child that you care about how they feel will help your child to feel loved. Feeling loved will help reduce your child’s level of stress and anxiety almost immediately.

= Tell your child that it is okay to have those feelings. You can do this by repeating back what they said, but by changing the sentence structure. For example, if your ten year old says, “I really hate maths, I think the teacher doesn’t like me”. You can repeat back, “I didn’t realise you were having such a hard time in maths, and it not surprising that you don’t want to do your homework if you dislike the teacher”. This may sound obvious, however many parents feel they are intruding or that the child will be okay and just needs to ‘get on with it.’ Taking on such a stoic, ‘stiff upper lip’ approach may well reflect on how the parent him/herself tend to personally deal ( or not deal) with stress or anxiety, rather than the most healthy approach.

=Refrain from giving advice early on in the conversation. It is incredibly important to just simply acknowledge that whatever you child is feeling at the present time is okay and normal to feel. It is okay, no matter what your child is currently feeling. You can do this, by saying something like, “I’m not surprised you are feeling so angry, I think that if someone said that to me, I’d be very upset too.”

=Try your best to refrain from saying upbeat comments, such ‘cheer up’ or go into a whole explanation about how what you are feeling is somehow worse. This is about your child’s feelings, not about yours! The main aim is to empathise with your child and express that you understand what he or she is saying and going through. You need to communicate that whatever they are feeling is completely fine.

=Often children fear that what they are feeling is somehow unimportant, invalid, or not as important as what everyone else (often you) is feeling or going through. The most important response with an anxious child is to say that you understand what they are going through, it’s normal and okay, that they can tell you and that you love them.

=Remember that often all a child really needs is to feel that they have been heard by you. After they have described how they are feeling and you have responded, giving them a big loving hug is always a good move.

=Sit together and try to be as honest and realistic as possible about what your child is worrying about. If, for example, they are worried about a grandparent’s health, discuss with them, in very general terms, what is happening. These conversations involve picking and choosing what to say and also assessing what is appropriate for the child in question. The main idea is for the child to feel understood and they have some idea about what is happening. Deciding how much to tell your child is always a complicated decision. If you need to come up with a plan of action, do so in a way in which your child feels a part of the process and that their concerns are taken into account as well.

Good luck 🙂