When kids are stressed, anxious and fearful, parents often wonder whether what they’re experiencing is normal or if their child has an anxiety disorder. If your child’s fears and worries are persistent, severe or interfere with their daily life, they may need professional help.
Many children experience some sort of fear or worry at some point, and it’s a normal part of growing up. However, some children have chronic worries that don’t seem to go away, even though they should. This can lead to a variety of problems, including school refusal, avoiding friends, trouble sleeping, eating disorders and depression.
In these cases, it’s important to find the right solutions to help them break free from their worries and get back on track with their lives. In Freeing Your Child from Anxiety, childhood anxiety expert Tamar Chansky offers a proven approach for helping kids build emotional resilience for a healthier and happier life.
The first step is identifying the problem. This can be difficult since different children will show their anxiety differently, depending on their age. In younger children, this might be behavioural (irritability or a sudden mood change) or physical (shakiness or difficulty concentrating). Older kids might have a hard time articulating when they feel anxious, but they can often demonstrate their feelings through their behaviour.
Identifying the cause of their anxieties is also important. If they are worried about something out of their control, for example, if it rains and their baseball game is cancelled, try to distract them with other activities. If they are worried about something they can control, such as a science test or trying out for the basketball team, talk with them about ways to prepare.
Explain that their brain’s alarm system is designed to keep them safe. For example, if they were being chased by a lion, their brain would send them signals like sweaty palms and increased heart rate to give them the energy they need to run away from the threat. But sometimes their brain triggers a false alarm, such as when they’re nervous about speaking in front of a crowd or taking a big test.
Reassure them that their uncomfortable feelings will pass. It can be helpful to set a timer to show them that the discomfort doesn’t last forever, and even just 10 minutes can make a difference.
Encourage them to practice relaxation techniques, such as taking deep breaths or visualising a place where they feel calm. This could be their bedroom, a favourite spot in nature or a special person they trust.
Remember that everyone has anxiety to some degree, and a little is healthy. However, if your child’s anxieties become disruptive and debilitating, consult with your pediatrician to see if they might need some professional help. They can recommend a mental health specialist who can diagnose and treat anxiety disorders.