It’s awful seeing your child struggling with anxiety. Maybe they’ve been getting a lot of stomach aches or headaches. Maybe they’ve been extra clingy and not wanting to go to school. Maybe they’ve lost their appetite or are having trouble sleeping. Maybe they’re having full-on anxiety attacks.
Perhaps you were an anxious child yourself and know how they’re feeling. Back when we were kids, the best we would get would probably be some cheery advice: “Don’t worry about it! It’ll be fine!”
That doesn’t take the worry away.
With one in eight kids struggling with anxiety at some point, this is a problem faced by a lot of parents. But there’s good news.
“Anxiety in kids is very treatable and they are particularly responsive,” believes psychologist Karen Young, who runs the website Hey Sigmund. “They’re so open to possibility, and very quick to make the right connections when they’re given the right information and support.”
So how can you help your child when their anxiety is at its worst - when you can see it has taken hold of them? Young suggests you try saying these things:
"You’re safe. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere." You can offer comfort by just staying beside them.
"Whatever you do now will be absolutely fine with me." If you let your child know that what they're doing is okay, it will give them the strength to deal with the feeling.
"Let’s go for a walk and see if we can find your strong breaths." When kids are having an anxiety attack, their body responds by getting ready for "fight or flight". Walking will help overcome the physical symptoms like racing heart, trembling, shortness of breath and nausea.
"Your brain is thinking that it needs to protect you. Breathe – I’ll do it with you. It will let your brain know that you’ve got this, and that you’re okay. It just needs to know that you’re safe and then it will settle down." Taking strong breaths can make your child's body relax. But it's something that they need to practise when they're calm. The idea is to breathe in for three seconds, hold the breath for one, breathe out for three seconds, hold for one. There are different techniques for this. One involves the child imagining they're breathing in the smell of a cup of hot chocolate, holding, then blowing it cool. Another involves tracing an infinity symbol on a child's hand or back, taking three seconds for each circle and pausing in the middle.
WATCH a mindfulness meditation aimed at kids aged between seven and 11. Post continues after video...
When your kids are calm, talk to them about their feelings. Validate them, and try to help them come up with their own ways to deal with anxiety. Let them know that brains can change, and they won't always feel this anxious.
"When they’re given the space and the encouragement and the freedom to explore and experiment, kids can come up with wonderfully unexpected solutions to the things that are troubling them," Young says. "They can be pretty amazing like that."
Does your child struggle with anxiety?