Many of the worries that children tend to have are a normal part of growing up. When dealing with stressful situations, it is natural to feel anxious. But anxiety becomes worrying when it interferes with a child’s ability to handle everyday situations. The severity and duration of the anxiety are signs that indicate whether the child is worrying too much and might need help.
What are the signs of anxiety in children?
Severe anxiety affects children's mental and emotional wellbeing, harming their self confidence. They may become withdrawn and go to great lengths to avoid everyday activities that make them feel anxious, such as attending school, going out or even seeing friends. The way in which children express their anxiety might vary depending on their age. Some of the symptoms include:
- Irritability or tearfulness
- Sleep disruption (waking in the night, having bad dreams, etc).
- Poor concentration
- Lack of confidence to try new things
- Inability to face everyday challenges
- Inability to control fear or worry
- Changes in eating habits or appetite
- Stomach ache
- Refusing to go to school
- Feeling sick
- Shortness of breath
How to help your anxious child
Do not reinforce his anxieties. It is important to show that you understand your child’s anxiety or fear, but without amplifying it. Talk together about what he is anxious about, try to figure out the reason for that, and help him feel that he can face his fear. Try to control your tone of voice and body language so that you do not reinforce the fear.
Focus on the positives. Anxious and stressed children tend to focus on negative thoughts and self-criticism. Help them find the good aspects of the situation, instead of worrying about future events.
Find ways to confront the fear. Helping children avoid the things they are afraid of will make them feel better in the short term, but it reinforces the anxiety over the long run.Rather than avoiding what makes him anxious, help the child develop mechanisms to cope with it.
Be prepared. If you know that a situation that the child might find challenging is about to occur, discuss what is going to happen, so that he can have an idea of what to wait.
Help the child relax. Practice simple relaxation techniques with your child. This might mean telling your child to take a few slow, deep breaths. You can even schedule time each day for the child to do relaxing activities, such as a sport that he likes, or a game or activity he enjoys.
Express positive, but realistic, expectations. You cannot assure the child that his fear is completely unrealistic, but you can express confidence that he is going to be okay, he will be able to manage it, and that, as he faces his fears, the anxiety level will drop over time. In this way, he knows that you’re not going to ask him to do something he can’t handle and that your expectations are realistic.
Model healthy ways of handling anxiety. It is normal for parents to get worried about something now and then, but it is important to show children that you can handle your anxieties calmly, and that you find ways to get through them.
Distract children’s attention. Distraction can also be helpful for young children. So, if they are anxious about a particular occasion, find ways to draw their attention to something else, such as something interesting you can see around or a game you might come up with.