ANXIETY is just as common in kids as it is in adults, with the root causes far-reaching.
Five children in a classroom of 30 are likely to have a mental health problem such as anxiety, according to the Children’s Society.
Parents became particularly worried about this during the Covid pandemic, when life and its routines were turned upside down for kids, too.
Sometimes it can be difficult to tease apart what’s normal for a child to be anxious about, and what appears to be harmful to their wellbeing.
Dr Angharad Rudkin, resident psychologist for financial services and life insurance provider Legal and General, said: "Every child will experience anxiety at some point.
“It is an essential part of the growing up process and helps children to understand themselves and the world better.
“Feeling a bit of anxiety and learning strategies for dealing with it can be an essential life skill."
The NHS says symptoms of anxiety in children include becoming clingy and tearful, difficulty sleeping, wetting the bed and bad dreams.
In older children, they may lack confidence, find it hard to concentrate, have angry outbursts or even avoid everyday activities, like seeing their friends.
The NHS says “if your child's anxiety is severe, persists, and interferes with their everyday life, it's a good idea to get some help” – for example if they are not sleeping or eating.
There are a few common triggers for anxiety among youngsters, Dr Rudkin said.
She explains them here:
Until about the age of 10 children are still developing the ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. This is what makes believing in Father Christmas and the tooth fairy possible.
But this is also what makes believing there's a monster under their bed possible.
As they grow, children enjoy learning more about the world.
But with this increasing awareness of global issues comes an awareness that sometimes natural disasters happen, such as earthquakes and floods.
Something bad happening to parents
From the age of about seven children can worry about something happening to you.
This is because brain growth (“cognitive development”) means that a child can now think about the longer term, and can start to hypothesise about things happening in the future.
Anxiety about death is understandable for children of this age, but our findings on how to help children cope with grief can help you gently manage their expectations.
Bugs and dogs
We fear things that are unfamiliar. Creepy crawlies and spiders can look quite unusual to a child and can trigger anxiety.
It is natural for children to be frightened of dogs when they don’t live with them.
Children can often be anxious about water. For a lot of children this is a sensory issue, to do with the feel of water.
For others it is fear of something bad happening to them when they’re in water
Depending on your child’s temperament, they will be more or less comfortable going into new situations.
This is a natural survival strategy, but it can get in the way of your child trying new things.
Children are designed to want to be close to their parents. After all, this is how they feel and stay safe.
At around the age of nine months and again at 18 months there is a peak in separation anxiety, believed to coincide with cognitive development.
As they get older, children can show separation anxiety when they start pre-school or school.
School work and exams
Even primary school aged children are feeling the pressure of increased school work and exams.
Their anxiety about not doing well can spill over into other aspects of life.
Going on holiday
While being on holiday can be fun and exciting, it can make children anxious because of the change in routine.
If you are stressed about going on holiday, so will your children be.
How to help your child
Parents don’t need to feel helpless when their child is showing signs of anxiety.
There are a number of ways they can help their son or daughter to recognise their anxiety, find coping strategies, all with the reassurance of their parents.
Dr Rudkin gave the following pointers:
Show your child how to deal with worries by modelling relaxed, rational behaviour. Children learn by watching, so if you show that you are scared or worried, your child will be too.
“If this is really difficult, use this opportunity to get some help to tackle your worries. Not only will you be helping yourself, but you will also be helping your child.
2. Talk to your child about their worries.
Worries feel so much easier to deal with when we have someone else’s perspective to help tackle them.
For example, explain that while there are monsters in stories there aren’t in real life. This will help them understand the distinction between imagination and reality.
Normalising is an important part of worry management.
Let your child know that it is completely normal to worry about these things and that our brains have been designed to think about negative things, but that this doesn’t mean that the bad things will happen.
Help your child to understand their worry and then reassure them by talking through the likelihoods of the worrying thing happening.
For example, when talking about natural disasters acknowledge that it can feel worrying living in an ever changing world, but the likelihood of these catastrophic events happening is very low.
5. Hug your child
Parents can worry about saying the wrong thing and making things worse.
Sometimes, children don’t understand all the words we use when we talk about worries. So, a big hug instead can say a million words.
6. Brave talk
Tell your child how strong and capable they are. This will help them feel better equipped to deal with worry provoking situations.
Teach your child how to take deep breaths to help them relax.
8. Don’t avoid
Anxiety feeds off avoidance. Although it is natural to not do something because it makes us feel anxious, children need to learn that anxiety goes down the more familiar we are with a situation or think.
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