How to recognise anxiety
Anxiety is a natural response to a feeling of danger or threat however sometimes these feelings can be pervasive and impact our ability to enjoy life, build relationships or try new experiences. If you are watching your child suffer from anxiety it can be heartbreaking, sadly it is not uncommon.
Signs that your child is anxious include difficulty sleeping, angry outbursts, worry thoughts. There can also be issues around meal times, for example they may only feeling comfortable eating a narrow range of foods. Sometimes there can be physical symptoms such as tummy aches. These responses are the result of your child having a heightened sense of threat. This puts them in a state of high alert, making it more likely that they have quick reactions to perceived danger such as going into shut down or lashing out.
Surprisingly an angry child might in fact be an anxious child (or adult!).
It is important that we don’t dismiss our child’s feelings and support them to increase their sense of safety in the world. Here are some ways that you can help:
1. A stable routine built around connection.
Schedule in daily and weekly times when your child can count on your loving presence. Examples are meal times, making these times special by setting the table and lighting a candle, reading or doing a puzzle together, sharing things you enjoyed about the day at bedtime.
A calm, stable environment can really help your child to build a calm inner world.
Sometimes working on our own anxiety can help our child with theirs – if you tend to be a bit frayed this can impact those around you. Our calm, warm presence can be infectious as children unconsciously look to us for cues around safety. Secure attachment relationships are an important protective factor against anxiety.
It also allows us to role model healthy ways of dealing with stress.
3. Support your child to talk
If the anxiety was triggered by a specific painful event it is important that they tell the story of that event including the part where everything worked out fine. This helps the child to process it fully and learn that it is possible to survive and recover from difficult or painful situations.
If your child is worried about a specific scenario you could try asking them; what is the best possible way you could imagine this situation turning out?
Sometimes their best imagining is closer to the truth which helps them to build a store of evidence that things can turn out better than expected.
4. Encourage them to take safe risks
These should be just on the edge of their comfort zone and give them a warm glow of self esteem rather than tip them into terror. Notice signs from your child as to whether a situation is too much for them to handle or whether they simply need gentle encouragement.
5. Assess if change is needed
If a situation is causing your child anxiety it could be that it is not the right environment for them at the moment. My son was repeatedly experiencing stomach pains triggered by anxiety around going to school. After working with his teacher to try and improve his experience, we made the decision to home educate.
6. Calming Tools
Find out what best supports your child to feel well, for example retreating into their own space can be helpful for some. When my son was younger he would hang a toy penguin on the door handle of his room to indicate he did not want to be disturbed. At other times being wrapped in a blanket or held can be helpful, even rough play can be a good stress reliever. Talk to your child and find solutions together.
Change can take time, consistently supporting your child is the best way to create positive long term outcomes.
If you think your child is suffering from anxiety it can be beneficial to work with a therapist or coach. In a series of one to one sessions we can have a deeper look at the causes of your child’s anxiety and make a plan which is tailored to their needs. You can book a free consultation here.