If your child seems to be always on edge, worrying about things they can’t control – like the weather or whether they’ll make their school basketball team – it could be a sign of anxiety. All kids worry, but when it interferes with their normal daily activities, it’s worth exploring options for help.
The good news is that anxiety is treatable. Children and teens who seek treatment can learn ways to manage their feelings so they’re able to participate fully in the world around them. In addition to cognitive behavioral therapy, medications may be needed for some children and teens with anxiety disorders. Parents and guardians play an essential role in helping their children through this process.
It’s easy to mistake some of the early physical, behavioral and emotional signs of anxiety for other problems – tantrums or refusal to do homework, for example. The key is to talk with your child compassionately, so they feel comfortable opening up. Children are often reluctant to tell their parents about their anxieties because they fear they won’t be understood or judged as weak or “babyish.”
Getting to the bottom of your child’s anxieties can help you find ways to calm their fears. For example, if they’re anxious about tests or shots, explain that although the shot might hurt a little, it will prevent them from getting sick later. It can also be helpful to show your support by encouraging them, cheering them on for their math test or letting them choose what movie to watch for family movie night.
For children with specific fears, it’s sometimes helpful to teach them how to relax by having them imagine a place or person that makes them feel safe, secure and happy. This can be a memory from their childhood, such as their bedroom or a favorite vacation spot, or it might be an adult they trust, such as a parent or teacher. It’s a great idea to practice this skill each day so it becomes familiar, and a regular habit.
For children with general or broader anxieties, or for those who don’t respond to relaxation techniques, it’s important to see a GP. It’s also worth exploring children’s and young people’s mental health services (CYPMHS). Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most commonly recommended treatment for anxiety in children and teens, and it’s best done in conjunction with medication. In most cases, a child will have to wait a while before seeing a specialist, so you’ll need to be patient as you work towards better managing your child’s symptoms. However, remember that learning to overcome anxiety is a lot like exercise – it takes time, commitment and regular practice. But it can be life-changing.