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Anxiety is becoming an increasing problem amongst younger kids and teenagers. In fact, a recent YouGov survey found that over a quarter of British students report having mental health problems, with 74% of those experiencing anxiety related issues. Anxiety can take many forms, but generally causes discomfort, feelings of unhappiness, inadequacy and can lead to poor academic performance. If you believe that your child is suffering with anxiety, it’s important that you take some of the following steps to help your child feel supported. That away you can help get them back to their happy selves.
How do you spot anxiety in your child?
Anxiety will take its toll on your child mentally, but it often manifests itself physically. This can include stomach aches, headaches, a general feeling of sickness, panic attacks, insomnia or just feeling highly-strung and overly emotional.
Talk it through
One of the first steps to take if you notice your child is suffering with anxiety on any level is to take some time to talk with them. Ask them exactly what they’re worrying about and always take the time to listen, no matter how irrational their fears may seem. Often just talking it through with someone else will make them feel at ease. Helping your child identify out loud exactly what triggers their anxiety will also mean they start examining their feelings, which can be an important first step in trying to get better.
Discuss worst-case scenarios
Ignoring anxiety isn’t going to help your child, but discussing worst-case scenarios can be strangely helpful. Once they have identified their worst-case scenarios, ask them to imagine that they’re in that situation, and ask them what they would do -- really what’s the worst thing that can possibly happen? Bringing this scenario to life will rationalise your child’s anxiety a little and help them come to terms with what would really happen if their anxieties came to life.
If your child is experiencing anxiety, ask them to take big deep breaths in through their nose and out through their mouth, counting 1, in -- and 2, out, repeatedly. Concentrating on their breathing will slow their heart rate, reduce blood pressure and help take their mind off anxious thoughts. Encourage your child to practice this breathing technique anytime they start feeling anxious.
Let them worry
Telling your child not to worry is definitely not going to help. However, allowing kids to worry in condensed periods of time can be useful. Try creating a daily ritual called “Worry time’, which lasts around 15 minutes and is time purely dedicated for your child to write down or discuss all their worries. Once ‘Worry time’ is up, your child must say goodbye to all of their anxieties and worries for that day.
Exercise, especially during an anxious period, is a fantastic way for your child to calm down and take their mind off worrying for a little while. Go for a walk with your child, get them to do some jumping jacks or just a kick a ball around with them in the back garden. Exercise releases happy hormones which are going to lift your child’s mood and relax their mind and body.
For more information on stress, anxiety and depression in children, this NHS page has lots of helpful resources and useful material.