It is becoming more common for young children to be anxious and experience anxiety disorders.
Understanding and helping your anxious child is not easy, as their brain is rapidly growing and developing. Mismanaging a child’s anxiety can further aggravate their mental health, so utmost care and sensitivity are important when taking steps to care for them.
Before even attempting to manage your child’s anxiety, you should engage your children in a way where they feel comfortable, as well seeking help from a mental health professional.
Knowing the signs and triggers of your child’s anxious feelings is vital in managing your child’s anxiety effectively.
In this article, we explore some triggers that cause anxiety in young children and the different ways family members can help them cope in challenging situations, alongside seeking professional help.
What Causes Anxiety in Young Children?
There are a lot of reasons why some children experience anxiety at a young age. We’ve listed some of the most common causes of anxiety in young people.
Abrupt Life Changes
Changes in environments can lead to a child often feeling unsettled or anxious; such as starting at a new school or moving to a new neighbourhood.
Experiencing a significant life change can be extremely stressful for kids. They might be leaving their friends behind and their lives being turned upside down could leave them with social anxiety or separation anxiety.
Going through these changes without having the chance to adjust to it can be difficult even for adults.
When making these life changes, try to involve your children in the decision-making process. Be sure to explain to them what’s happening and why you need to go through these changes so the experience is less sudden and you get to help manage your child’s fears.
Living in stressful conditions can induce anxiety in young children, whether it be coming from the family or other external factors.
For a child, being caught in between family problems can trigger anxiety. Being exposed to family stress such as finances or marital problems at an early age can cause extreme stress for the child, especially if they are being told everything is fine when they can see it isn’t.
Sometimes the struggles experienced by kids in school can also be the cause of their anxiety. It could be pressures of schoolwork or even bullying.
Constant communication with your kids can help you understand how they feel about their situation and you can help guide them on how to handle their feelings.
If you or someone in your family have dealt with an anxiety disorder, your child is more prone to developing the condition. Kids can inherit genes from their parents which makes them more likely to experience anxiety.
Simply put, there could be a chemical imbalance in the brain that is causing your child’s anxiety. A chemical imbalance is when there is either too much or not enough of certain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, in the brain.
How Do I Know If My Child Has an Anxiety Disorder?
There are many telltale signs of anxiety that you can observe from your children. As a parent, it’s important to be able to differentiate between normal behaviour and signs of anxiety.
Watch Out for Signs of Anxiety
One of the easiest signs to spot is when a child is experiencing panic attacks. A child having a panic attack could be breathing at a faster rate than normal, they could be shaking, and their heart rate would increase.
Panic attacks in anxious kids generally give them the feeling that they are unable to breathe and this causes grave discomfort for them, especially if they don’t understand what is happening.
Some other signs are profuse sweating, tense muscles, a sick feeling, or a change in body temperature.
Living with anxiety can put a mental and emotional strain on young children, as they would often be preoccupied with fears and negative thoughts.
Anxiety can also make it difficult for your child to concentrate on tasks and struggle to sleep at night.
Check Behaviour Changes
Children living with anxiety can tend to distance themselves from other people that they find difficult to associate with.
The social wellbeing of anxious kids is heavily affected as they can tend to push people away, whether it be family, friends, classmates, or other social groups.
Some children may also have a loss of appetite, and in some cases, it would be the other way around and they could be stress eating.
What Are the Best Ways to Manage Your Child’s Anxiety?
Have a Healthy Conversation with Your Child
Fear can take over the way children think and react to certain situations. Talking to them about how to face their fears and cope with them can help your child reduce their anxiety.
Always validate their feelings and don’t decide for them on whether they’re okay or not. Acknowledging their feelings can help your child open up on their fears and thoughts.
Listen to your child and guide them on how to find ways to solve their problems.
Let Your Child Relax
Simple relaxation exercises such as deep breathing can do wonders for anyone living with anxiety – this includes young and older children.
Guide your child through deep breathing exercises whenever they experience heightened anxiety. Likewise, encouraging positive thinking may help your child ease their anxiety.
Listen to your child and ask them what they want to do, especially after an anxiety attack. They might need some down time, or maybe they want to play or watch TV. Give them the choice to figure out what they need if they want it.
Provide a Worry Box or a Self-Soothe Box
If your child is seeing a mental health professional, this is something they may recommend to help with their anxiety.
A worry box provides a place for kids to share their anxieties. Your child can write down their anxieties and pop it in the box. It can act as a metaphor for everything that is making the child anxious. Come back to the box every now and again and see if what is written is still making your child anxious. If so, keep it in the box and if not, you can rip up the note and throw it away.
Some children would also benefit from a self-soothe box that’s filled with different items that can help relax them.
Some items that can be included are stuffed animals, photos of great memories, a weighted blanket, fidget toys, and any other objects that will help your child feel relaxed.
Consult a Professional and Learn from Experts
Parents can feel helpless when they see their child suffering from intense fear or worry. Typically, treatment of anxiety revolve around talk therapy or medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), on the other hand, can help a child test out what thoughts they have are realistic or unrealistic. Play therapy usually works best for young children to work through anxieties.
According to the Book published by New Harbinger Publications, Helping Your Anxious Child, at least 10% percent of children have excessive fears and worries―phobias, separation anxiety, panic attacks, social anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder―that can hold them back and keep them from fully enjoying childhood.
This book by Ronald M Rapee, Ann Wignall, Susan H Spence, Vanessa Cobham and Heidi Lyneham is actually recommended as a classic self-help guide on cutting-edge, proven-effective techniques for helping your child overcome anxiety and thrive. Parents are provided a step-by-step guide for assisting their children in overcoming a panoply of worries, fears, and anxieties. It has a section on how to help your child practice “detective thinking” to recognize irrational worries. You will also appreciate the free downloadable Helping Your Anxious Child Workbook which teaches cognitive behavioral strategies through activities and worksheets.
Never Give Up on Your Child
Anxiety is a condition that can continually manifest throughout a child’s life, or can ebb and flow during stages of stress and extenuating circumstances. It isn’t easy for anyone to live with anxiety and the symptoms that come with it, especially a child.
Your role as a parent is to always make sure your child feels loved and supported. As they grow older, you should gradually equip them with long-lasting social skills.
Anxiety is a health condition, and is not something anyone should feel ashamed to have. By continually supporting your child, you are helping to care for their mental wellbeing and they will know that they can always rely on you for support.