Anxiety is the most common mental health concern for both children and adults. This was the case even before the pandemic, with one in six children aged between 5 and 16 likely to have a mental health problem according to the Children’s Society in 2020. I am seeing increasing numbers of parents who report their children have become more anxious over the past year. So, what is anxiety? Feelings of fear and anxiety arise as a response to a threat or perceived threat. It can be experienced as a feeling that “something bad is going to happen”. This response to threat, whether perceived or actual, is, in fact normal, especially in the context of Covid 19. However, children may begin to suffer from a more ongoing, regular state of anxiety which impacts on their daily life and well being or is out of context for their developmental stage.
What are the symptoms of anxiety? When children feel anxious, there is a physical, emotional and behavioural response. Physical symptoms can include rapid breathing and heart rate, muscle tension, sweating, shaking, nausea and abdominal pain. Children may be feeling panicky, scream, cry or become aggressive. Some will run away, hide or appear “switched off” or frozen. The most important thing (and probably the most difficult!) we as parents can do when this happens is to remain calm. If we can regulate our emotional state, this will help our child to calm down and get better control of his or her feelings.
There is a lot we can do to support our children with feelings of anxiety. Clear and supportive communication is key. We can help children recognise that feeling anxious is normal and experienced by everyone at times. We can also reassure them that they will be supported to have a go at new things and that the most important thing is to try. If we can encourage and praise their attempts at doing something, children are more likely to repeat this behaviour and feel an increased sense of being capable and brave. If your child is feeling worried, why not join my webinar on June 29th at 7 pm for more information about how you can help them learn the skills to become confident.