Does your child worry too much? It’s a common concern for parents these days. In fact, Public Health England says anxiety is one of the most common causes of child psychiatric disorders.
Anxiety is a little demon that can strike children in many different disguises – from tummy aches, headaches and sleep problems to eating issues, low self-esteem and even obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Here at Sunflower we are receiving an increasing number of calls from parents of anxious children who are struggling to cope with the demands of modern life.
Chief executive, Nichola Atkinson says: “Parents are calling us because they have nowhere else to turn. We can often spend up to an hour listening to a family’s situation and understanding the challenges that they face. Many are unaware of where to go for support and are at the end of their tether.”
Government figures state nearly 40,000 children in the UK suffer with anxiety – and they are just the ones we know about. Sunflower’s child health experts have put together some practical tips and advice for families dealing with anxiety issues…
Help your child understand what the worries do to their body
Anxiety causes physical symptoms such as tummy aches or headaches. The child will then
worry about having a tummy ache…and so gets stuck in a vicious circle. By helping your child recognise what the anxiety is doing to their body, you allow them to feel less frightened by these symptoms. Say things like: “That could be your worry tummy – shall we do some relaxing to make it go away?”
Five steps to calm
Try Sunflower’s proven techniques to help your child to feel better at times of stress:
- Uninterrupted breathing – encourage your child to spend a few moments concentrating on their breathing. This will calm their body down and also serve as a distraction.
- Positive face – ask your child to do a silly smile; it’s definitely much harder to feel angry or stressed when you are smiling.
- Balanced posture – stand up tall together, releasing tension and helping the blood flow.
- Release muscle tension – help your child to feel more relaxed by concentrating on thinking about something calm and enjoyable.
- Mental control – encourage some positive thoughts and help your child to feel in control by asking: “What could you do to make yourself feel better?”
Lead by example
Sunflower practitioner, Sheree McGregor explains: “If you notice your child being anxious, stop and look at your own behaviour as often young children will mimic the adults around them. Children are babies for a long time and are great observers of their parents. Show yourself being happy and they will copy that too.”
Worry box/worry time
If worries are taking over normal life, allocate a set time to sit down with your child and go through their worries – by doing this you can also allocate places and times where worries have to stay away (the bedroom/bedtime). If anxiety rears its ugly head at bedtime, get your child to write worries down and pop them in a worry box to be dealt with later. This process helps them to learn how to take control of their feelings and to not let the worries get out of control.
Acknowledge the worries
All worries are legitimate so reassure your child that it is perfectly normal to feel worried. It’s no good telling someone ‘don’t worry about it’. Instead, say things like: ‘yes I can understand why you feel worried about that’ or ‘it’s okay to feel worried, now let’s see what you can do to make sure that worry doesn’t get too big’.
Stopping the worries from getting too big
Work through the facts; if they are worried about not having anyone to play with at school, ask them to name all the kind children in their class that they could join in with. Also encourage them to draw on past experiences – ‘remember when you were worried about going to that birthday party and then you had a lovely time’.
Put your child in control
Of course, as parents we naturally want to make everything better for our children. Try to resist this temptation and instead encourage them to find their own solutions. Perhaps they could plan a game for playtime and ask others to join in or they could take a skipping rope to play with.
For some children, anxiety can become more severe, affecting their mental and emotional wellbeing, self-esteem and confidence. They may become withdrawn and go to great lengths to avoid things or situations that make them feel anxious. If your child is unable to cope with their anxiety, or you feel they are just not getting the best out of their life, contact the Sunflower Programme: 01483 531498