Anxiety is an increasing problem among children of school-going age. For some, it’s just a phase or a particular circumstance that makes them feel uncomfortable and many of these will pass. But for others, anxiety disorder can cause discomfort, poor academic performance and feelings of inadequacy and unhappiness. Exam time is when most students feel more anxious, but if you notice a persistent problem, there are many steps to take to help your child feel happy and healthy.
Anxiety takes its toll mentally, but it is also manifested in physical symptoms. Anxiety may cause your child to suffer from stomach aches and headaches, have difficulty falling asleep or become overly emotional. Luckily there are many strategies for helping your children to cope with stress.
Taking large breaths is a great way to relieve stress, slow heart rate and reduce blood pressure. Get your child to breathe deeply in through the nose and out through the mouth. Distract them further by getting them to focus on breathing into the belly. They can place their hands in their stomachs to ensure that they are breathing correctly.
Talk It Through
When children feel upset, their fears are often irrational. Help your child to identify the triggers – this can be done by helping them to recognize the physical manifestations of anxiety (sweaty palms, tight stomach etc.). Once they have established that they are feeling anxious, they need to identify what they are afraid of and ask themselves if it’s a rational fear. Help them to think back to the last time they were in a similar situation; did everything work out ok then?
If your child has fears that are realistic i.e. they are scared to go on a family vacation because they saw a plane crash on the news, discuss probability and coping strategies should the worst case scenario happen so that they feel more prepared to deal with upcoming situations.
Often children think of their fear as something that is exterior and therefore not in their power to control. Once you and your child are able to identify anxiety, you can help them to control their feelings. One way to do this is to tell their worries to go away or to put them in a mental worry ‘box’. Take time each day to ‘open’ the worry box and discuss worries before putting them away until tomorrow.
Walk It Out
Exercise, especially in the throws of a bout of anxiety, is a great way to calm down and take your mind off your anxieties. Get your children to run around, do some jumping jacks or go for a walk. Exercise also releases feel-good hormones which will help to elevate the mood and relax the body.
Show empathy; just because your child’s fears are unfounded or overblown doesn’t make them any less real. Acknowledge the anxiety, talk about it and try to find solutions that work for everyone. Be there to help and support while getting your children to work through their own fears. As the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) states “Anxiety is a normal part of childhood, and every child goes through phases. A phase is temporary and usually harmless. But children who suffer from an anxiety disorder experience fear, nervousness, and shyness, and they start to avoid places and activities.” If you feel your child is experiencing more than a ‘phase’ you should look for more professional guidance from your child’s doctor.