How often in our busy lives do we look to our children and think how wonderful it would be to be a child again. An age that carries little to no real responsibility and appears void of stress and anxiety. The truth is, whilst there can be no argument that most kids have it pretty good, like adults they can all suffer from anxiety due to stress or fear at times in their small lives and to them it can feel very big and overwhelming.
Even without a major event occurring that would seem obvious in inducing anxiety there are many common things that most children will go through that can trigger it as they grow and develop. Babies experience stranger anxiety making them cling to parents when confronted with new people. Toddlers usually experience some separation anxiety becoming distressed when their parents need to leave them. Children aged 4-6 are known to get anxious from things that aren't actually even real – like monsters, ghosts and the boogie man and older children tend to have fears that reflect real circumstances that may happen to them like injury or natural disaster.
Whilst we can't stop our children from feeling anxious there are definitely ways in which we can help them cope with their anxiety and even things we can do to try to lessen it if it arises. Below are some tips to help your child deal with their anxiety and fears.
Routine and Structure
All children benefit from a consistent routine and structure. It provides them with a predictable and dependable base for their day. Anxious children do not cope as well with a disorganised lifestyle and thrive better when a regular routine allows them to feel some level of control in their lives.
Adults regularly turn to exercise as a way to release stress from their bodies and children are no different. Providing them with opportunities to get out, even for a walk, will help the body to relax and may also get them opening up more about their worries.
Have a night time routine
Night time can be one of the worst for children suffering from anxiety as they are left with their own thoughts as they go to bed. By starting a routine that allows time for your child and you to chat about their day – or even just quiet time alongside a parent with a gentle backrub and cuddle – may be a great way to help them open up about their troubles. It will also help them feel like they are not alone with their anxiety throughout the night. Sleep is an important asset in controlling our physical coordination and emotions.
Help your child identify their feelings
Some children find it hard to put in to words how they are feeling and it is important to help them understand that. It may help to explain to them ways in which people express their feelings (with faces, bodies and words) and that different ways our body feel are indications like the sensation of butterflies in the stomach or clenched fists. Let them know that showing your feelings is a way for others to know and understand how they are feeling.
Respect their fears
If you want your child to open up to you about what is making them anxious or fearful it is important to respect what it is they are worried about. If you are quick to discard what is making them anxious as ridiculous it will not actually make them overcome it and may cause them more stress as they feel they have no support. Instead talk with them about how you can help them overcome it.
There are some very effective and simple techniques that you can teach your child to help them relax their bodies when they feel they are becoming anxious. Encouraging slow breathing (best remembered by telling them to pretend they are slowly blowing bubbles) and consciously tensing then relaxing muscles can be a great start. Relaxation exercises where they imagine they are in a safe and relaxing place, focusing on the good feelings it evokes can help or even imagining there is a big box to put their worries in so they are not running wild when they need to put focus elsewhere can work.
There are many children's books that deal with anxiety and stress and this is a great way to get them recognising ways to deal with it without being too confronting. Work them into your nightly ritual and don't be shy with providing extra cuddles, rocking, singing or massage in as well. Parents may be surprised to realise that children sometimes need comforting that may appear too "babyish" for their age as anxious children do require more to help relieve their tension in their bodies.
Teach problem-solving techniques
Allow your child plenty of time to express their worries and then help them work out ways in which to help solve their issue. Define the source of the problem with them and then brainstorm with them possible solutions (also working through what the consequences to each of these may be) and help them choose the best solution. This will help them feel they have more control over the situation and less overwhelmed with all their thoughts.
Encourage focus on feel good activities
When you child is showing signs of anxiety or fear it is usually helpful to get them distracted in activities that they enjoy. Let them play with a favourite toy, get outside and play a game, read a favourite book or do some craft. Children who are feeling anxious usually need a little more assistance and attention from their parents to engage.
Monitor their media intake
Children are a lot more observant than many of us think and may have larger reactions to events than we may realise. Certain news stories or even children show storylines may stay with them and create anxiety if they feel it could also happen to them or their family. It is a good idea to keep an eye on what they are watching and if you do see them react anxiously to anything to take the time to talk it through with them so they can feel safe in their environment after.
Awareness of your child's anxiety and small steps of support, encouragement and understanding can go a long way towards reducing their fear and stress. By providing them with the tools they need to understand and the right environment to feel comforted in their situation you can best help them to cope effectively.
If you would like personalised help with any sleep issue for a child, newborn to 5 years, contact Katie Forsythe at The Baby Sleep Co today on 0457 473 725 or click here to send us an email.
Click here to see a full list of our services, here to see our rates and here to read our happy client testimonials.