Posted: 05 October 2019

How to help a child with anxiety

Our latest Good Childhood Report revealed young people are worrying about a range of issues including money, the climate and future prospects. With growing levels of uncertainty, it's important we are able to understand the signs of anxiety in children, as well as be able deal with it once it has been identified.  

Here we unravel the reasons why young people might be anxious and learn how to deal with anxiety in children. 

Reasons why children may be anxious 

Anxiety can affect children and young people at different stages of their life, and some children will worry or feel anxious more than others.  

It’s common for children to feel anxious when starting a new school or taking exams. However, for some children, anxiety is longer term and can have a greater impact on emotional health.  

Some common causes of more long-term anxiety may include experiencing a traumatic event or family conflict, pressure to attend social situations and uncertainty about the future. 

Anxiety symptoms in children

Anxiety, when it starts affecting a child’s day-to-day activities, can have a negative effect on a child’s well-being. It’s important we are able to identify the symptoms. Some of the symptoms of anxiety may be: 

  • Low confidence when trying new things 
  • Difficulty in completing everyday tasks 
  • Trouble concentrating  
  • Problems with eating and sleeping 
  • Experiencing negative thoughts, in particular worrying that something bad is going to happen 
  • Avoidance of previous activities such as going to school and seeing friends  

Helping children with anxiety 

If you think your child may be displaying symptoms of anxiety, it’s important they know you are open to talking about it. Here are some ways to help your child with anxiety: 

  • Teach the signs: teach your child the signs of anxiety so they can identify them and ask for help when they arise 
  • Grounding exercises: get the child to focus on the five senses. For example, if the child is walking to school anxious, ask them 'what three things can you see?', 'what two things can you smell?'. This brings them back to themselves and away from anxious behaviours
  • Books and films: if your child is experiencing longer-term anxiety, try to find books or films which might help them make sense of their feelings 
  • Stick to routines: most children find routines reassuring so try not to change the routine in periods of anxiety 
  • Prepare for change: if you are planning to move house or switch schools, take time to explain to your child the reasons and benefits of the change 
  • Try relaxation techniques: practise controlled breathing and visualisation exercises 
  • Start a ‘worry box’: encourage your child to write down their worries and put them in a box. Then have a ‘worry time’ where you both go through and discuss if they’re still worth worrying about. This shows that we are in control of our worries and not the other way around 
  • Positive thinking: the power of belief and positive thought should not be underestimated. Charlotte, one of our therapists, says 'if the seed (thought) is unhelpful or anxious - try not to water it. Notice it's there but don't water it. Focus the watering on the helpful thoughts'
  • Live healthy: Regular exercise, limited screen time, healthy food, good sleeping habits are all good for our mental health 

If your child’s anxiety is not improving or getting worse, please visit you GP, talk to their teachers, or contact Young Minds’ free parent helpline on 0808 802 5544.  

Many young people don't get the support they need early enough. We're calling on the Government to introduce a well-being measure in schools to make sure young people are listened to and supported when they need it.

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