Helping parents navigate childhood anxiety
4th February 2019
Childhood anxiety – the signs to look out for
Though many of us may have forgotten by now, childhood is an extraordinary time of coming to grips with a flood of new things. As our psyche grows, so too does our ego, our heart and mind. We’re simultaneously leaning our abc’s, while learning to tie our shoelaces. We’re understanding how to share toys, when it’s okay to laugh-out-loud and generally, how to simply ‘be’ in the world around us.
Then there are the steadily mounting pressures of getting into the right school, competing for scholarship placements and juggling extra curricular activities like music, dance and sport. Add social media on top of all that, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for childhood stress and anxiety. In this article, we’re going to explore what you can do as a parent to help your child through particularly stressful times. And what to look out for if you suspect your child is experiencing childhood anxiety.
Signs and symptoms to look out for
A certain level of childhood anxiety and stress is perfectly normal and natural at a young age. Typical worries and stresses may include not wanting to go to school when they are first enrolled, or perhaps experiencing stress due to being teased or bullied in the playground. Forming friendships during primary school is often tumultuous and it’s important to know that every child is going through this, and that all parents are dealing with this to some degree, as they raise their child.
However, at the clinic, we’ve treated many cases where the symptoms go beyond the norm of day-to-day anxiety. In terms of what to look out for, we have one overall tip that will help you spot a problem that may need serious attention. And that is, if your child isn’t able to find any enjoyment in day-to-day life and is experiencing negative behaviour in a highly repetitive or recurrent way, then it’s important to delve deeper and connect with your child to see if these recurrent behaviours can be resolved.
Additional things to look out for include:
- trouble concentrating, constant worry or negativity
- waking frequently due to recurring nightmares
- frequent outbursts of deep anger or frustration
- a persistent fear of death
- constant fear of a parent’s death
- inability to sleep, or a fear of going to sleep
Reassuring your child goes a long way
When children are little, your reassuring words of wisdom can really go a long way to soothing childhood anxiety – in fact, when done the right way, it can set them up for life. Reassuring your child that you are always there for them at any time of day or night is very important. That they can tell you anything and won’t be judged, is a good ideal to aim for when it comes to conscious parenting. Listening to your child without reacting, taking time to understand your child and offering gentle guidance where needed is also another ideal to aim for.
However, when you are incredibly busy running the household at large or busy creating income streams for your family’s future, it can be hard to really be there to meet the full emotional needs of your child.
Knowing that time is limited can sometimes help focus the time you do spend with your child. Another major tip is to work on reducing your own anxiety. Studies have shown that anxious parents can cause their child to become more anxious. Furthermore, anxiety in children influences the kind of parenting the child receives. So each causes the other to spiral deeper into anxiety, thereby creating a negative feedback loop that can be difficult to exit.
Working through your own anxiety
Throughout our lives, we’re all managing some level of anxiety. From the mild to non-existent levels when life is going our way, to heightened anxiety when the tide turns and something unexpected happens, like the loss of a job, or the death of a parent. How well adults cope with life, is subconsciously felt by children, as they seek to learn from the example adults in their lives set.
As suggested by Dr Susan Newman, parents can introduce mindfulness games to their child early on – to bring even small ‘30-second spaces of calm’ into the relationship. So for example, you can take your child for a walk in nature and ask them what sounds of the forest they can hear – which might include the crunch of leaves beneath your feet as you walk, the chirping of birds or the buzzing of insects. Quiet time in nature can be wonderfully restorative to our minds and bodies, and offers an excellent change of pace to the hectic lives we lead.
We’ve helped countless individuals transform the relationship they have with their child. If you would like to discuss how we can help, then please do contact us for a confidential chat.