How to help your child if they are struggling with anxiety
According to Anxiety UK, research suggests that as many as one in six young people will experience an anxiety condition at some point in their lives, which means in each class of 30, there could be up to five children living with an anxiety disorder, including generalised anxiety disorder, OCD, social anxiety, panic attacks or extreme stress.
Anxiety can manifest in many ways, and in children, it may interfere with their school, home and social life.
The NHS website states there are many symptoms to watch out for in childhood anxiety – this includes not sleeping or waking in the night from nightmares, not eating properly, being quick to anger, becoming irritable and being out of control during outbursts.
Children with anxiety may also feel tense and fidgety, may use the toilet often, become clingy, complain of feeling unwell or cry a lot.
Many anxiety disorders begin in childhood and adolescence, with over half of all mental illnesses starting by age 14 – but unfortunately, it can take a person over 10 years to seek help for it.
That’s why it’s important to watch out for any symptoms in your child, so that you can get on top of it sooner rather than later.
Though many think children have it easy, Jo Hardy, Head of Parent Services at YoungMinds, suggests children face a huge amount of pressures, including school stress, bullying, issues with body image and growing up in the online world, which can mean establishing a personal identity from an early age and feeling the need to live the ‘perfect life’.
She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘If a young person is feeling anxious, it can manifest in lots of ways which will depend on the age of your child, and on their personality.
‘Some young children might describe physical symptoms like a feeling in their belly, and older children might act out or want to spend more time on their own.
‘It can be hard to know when to be worried about a young person’s mental health.
‘Young people are adapting to lots of changes as they grow up, so it’s normal for them to express raw emotions and change moods quickly.
‘But if your child is consistently struggling, for example if you see a sustained change in their sleeping or eating patterns, or if they seem to be upset over a long period of time, it’s important to take it seriously.
‘Parents often instinctively know when their child is going through something – so trust your instinct.’
Jo says that to help your child if they are struggling, it’s crucial to talk to them about it.
Be understanding, open and patient, and let them know that you are there for them.
She said: ‘It can be really difficult to start the conversation about mental health, but it’s a crucial first step and there are lots of tips and ideas on our website YoungMinds for how to do this.’
YoungMinds has many tips for helping children with anxiety, including talking to your child about anxiety, what is happening to their body and why it happens – this is important because many children don’t understand what they are feeling when they are anxious, and it can be overwhelming.
It’s also important to help your child recognise their anxiety symptoms so that they don’t worry it’s a physical crisis such as a heart attack.
It’s a great idea to teach them how to breathe deeply and slowly while telling them that this will pass, so that they can manage their anxiety in high moments of stress.
Making a ‘worry box’, where your child can write each worry down and post it in the box so that it’s out of sight, can be helpful.
They can ‘leave the worries in there for a week to see if they were worth worrying about’ later. Kindness and patience is key.
Jo says: ‘When you do speak to them, listen to them without judgement and make sure that they know that you’re on their side and will help them get through this.
‘And remind them that you love them and that you’re proud of them.
If you think your child needs more support, speak to your family GP or call our YoungMinds parents helpline for specific advice and support.
‘And remember to look after yourself too.
It is extremely hard for parents to see their children go through difficult times, and it can have a huge impact on the whole family.
‘If you’re struggling to cope, speak to your GP about what support they can offer you.’