Is the situation worse now these days or are we just imagining it? There's no doubt our childhoods were different to those of our children. There are social pressures on our kids that we didn't have, such as (the big one) social media, cyber bullying, media images affecting body image, fewer stay-at-home parents, faster paced everything, dietary changes, less outside play and more.
Some level of anxiety is NORMAL. But a lot of kids seem to suffer too much with anxious thoughts. This is when parents sometimes become alarmed and look for help.
What is 'normal' anxiety?
It's normal to be a little anxious about these sorts of things:
- first day at school
- seeing a new doctor
- meeting a relative you've never met
- being alone in the dark
- going to bed in winter
- a dog barking at you
- hurting yourself
- getting lost
- losing track of Mum when shopping
- feels uncomfortable, but not life threatening.
- passes fairly quickly.
- is often overcome with encouragement
- can be talked through and managed
What are the physical symptoms of anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural mechanism in our brains designed to keep us safe from danger. It involves:
- the brain
- blood circulation
- hormonal system
- muscular system
Normally, these physical changes are lightning fast and uncontrollable. As soon as the thought enters our head, the changes occur. Similarly, as soon as we realise there is no actual danger, the thought triggers a calming down process.
It is also normal to have sweaty hands and forehead, a thumping sensation in the chest, tingling in the hands. But, as I mentioned, these feeling pass.
How do I know if my child is experiencing too much anxiety?
Sometimes extra 'sensitive' children may feel anxious over smaller, trivial things. Or children may feel heightened emotions due to trauma they have experienced or are in the middle of experiencing, such as family break-up, death of a loved one, relocation to a totally new environment. Many children with Asperger's Syndrome or Attention Deficit Disorder experience intense anxiety as part of their condition.
There are lots of triggers in a child's life that can cause a rise in anxiety symptoms. This usually passes with time and gentle understanding on the part of the adults in their life.
If a child:
- is having trouble breathing,
- their eyes are wide and they have a look of terror on their face,
- suddenly screams
- hides in their room crying over a trivial matter
- can't stop crying
- refuses flatly to go to school
- becomes physically violent in their panic
- vomits from stress
These are symptoms of distress. Your child needs help.
How do I help my anxious child?
The first step is to make an appointment with your GP. Do a bit of research and find a GP with counselling experience or one who specialises in children.
Secondly, begin reading up on strategies for managing childhood anxiety. From my work with children and their parents over 28 years I have written a book especially for children. 12 Annoying Monsters - Self talk for Kids with Anxiety
It's packed with information, fun activities and is designed to get parents and children talking about this very issue. There are many useful tools in this book that parents and children have loved. It has also been used by psychologists and counsellors in their practices.
My son loved it. I thought it was absolutely brilliant. It was insightful, compassionate and used kid-friendly language. I truly enjoyed reading it. I only wish I had a book like this when I was a child.
– Flavia Young, Publicist and blogger
Your 'Monsters' book is excellent Dawn. I am giving it to my daughter (Special Needs Teacher) to see if she can utilise it in her work as well.
– Harry Mayr, Principal Psychologist, St Marys/Penrith Psychological Services