Why does my child have anxiety?
There could be many reasons, but it is clear that there is something bigger going on too. For us, as adults, it has been a massive upheaval over the past few years, but we have the privilege of childhood without social media or existential threats.
Recently the world economic forum named youth disillusionment as one of our greatest immediate risks. Childhood anxiety and mental distress in our youth population have risen dramatically over the last few years – I would argue that this isn’t due to a lack of resilience in our younger generations, they are so robust, creative, and amazing just as they are, but more to do with the fact that the way we live on the planet today is not fit for human flourishing. You can see more on the topic in my TedX talk ‘How to Parent in a Messed Up World’ (below).
What is child anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural and helpful response to warn us of things that can threaten our safety. Our brain hasn’t changed in millennia and our threat response system (fight/flight/freeze) was designed to keep us alive in caveman days. In today’s overstimulating and overwhelming world, our brain struggles to know how to keep us safe and a rise in anxiety is the response to this.
Common signs of anxiety in your child are:
· Avoiding things they previously enjoyed like clubs or school
· Feeling panicky
· Reporting feeling physically sick more often than makes sense
· Irritability and anger (anger is a bodyguard emotion and is part of our fight/flight/freeze response)
· Struggling to sleep
· Getting stuck on a particular issue and asking lots of detailed questions to seek reassurance.
What can I do to help my child with their anxiety?
When your child is anxious and becomes driven by their worries it is so hard to know what to do. Thankfully anxiety is the most treatable of all mental health issues and whilst we can’t control much of what happens in the world around us we can learn to manage our response to it. Children and young people are particularly quick at learning these skills when given the right support in the right way at the right time.
Be patient, validate their feelings (when we are anxious we lose full control of the thinking part of our brain and need help from someone else to feel safe again to get that ability back), be direct and clear and remind them of their skills, teach them some strategies (when they aren’t anxious) to soothe their brain and body, and get some professional help if you feel you need it.
Here at The Child Psychology Service, we work with hundreds of children and young people every year to support them to manage their anxiety and enable them to flourish. Because we are a nationwide service there should always be a child anxiety therapist near you.
Early support tailored specifically for your child and family is what we specialise in.