Managing Your Child’s Anxiety

Anxiety is a natural and normal reaction to situations or events that appear threatening, for example going for an exam, joining a new club where you don’t know anyone, speaking in front of a group of people. You may experience physical symptoms such as butterflies, racing heart or trouble breathing. The feelings of fear, worry or panic might start beforehand in anticipation of the event and are usually fairly short-lived. It is helpful to experience some degree of anxiety as it motivates us to prepare, for example by revising for an exam.

If the symptoms persist, are widespread or start to impact on everyday life, for example make it difficult to get into school or work, affect learning, socialising or other areas of development then action may be required. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss the needs of your child and whether or not I am able to help. In the meantime below are some tips for supporting a young person in managing symptoms of anxiety:

Encourage your child to talk about their worries
This might be done by creating a protected space daily for 20 minutes where your child is able to sit and just talk without distractions such as phones, household jobs or other siblings. This may sound obvious but with most of us leading increasingly busy lives juggling school, work and extra-curricular clubs it’s easy to let this slip. Talking enables your child to gain another perspective on the feared situation and creates an opportunity for developing their problem solving skills.

For younger children you might consider creating a “worry box”. This could be any box with a lid or tissue box in which your child can write or draw their worries and “post” them. You can then sit down with your child to open the box and talk through the concerns, and then tear up or shred the worry once it’s been discussed.

Try not to encourage avoidance
When your child is distressed or worried about something a natural reaction is to protect them by removing them from the situation or allowing them to avoid it. This may create short term relief but is likely to set up longer term difficulties as your child doesn’t ever get the opportunity to develop coping skills for managing the feared event or situation. A more helpful approach would be to encourage your child to share what they most fear and talk about what they might do to manage should this worst case scenario occur.

Plan ahead
Anxiety can feel overwhelming when a situation or event feels unpredictable. This can be managed by planning ahead. For example, if the anxiety relates to being separated from parents it might involve discussing what time parents will be back, who will be looking after the child while the parent is out, what they might do during this time. Following on from this you might encourage your child to think about all the possible solutions available to them if a problem occurs and the pros and cons of each.

Model coping skills
Children are very aware of the behaviour of adults around them so it’s important to try and demonstrate healthy coping strategies where possible. This means dealing with your own anxiety calmly and talking about what skills you are using to deal with your feelings. It is helpful for your child to see your ability to tolerate uncomfortable feelings as it helps them learn that anxiety is manageable.

There are several different ways in which anxiety can present itself and impact on daily life. For many people strategies such as those listed above are enough to help cope with these difficult feelings and move forward. However for some a more structured therapeutic approach such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) might be beneficial. This involves looking at the triggers to the anxiety and your thoughts, feelings and reactions to them and then developing alternative ways of interpreting the situation and responding. It is a skills based approach aimed at challenging beliefs underlying the anxiety.

If you and/or your family are experiencing similar issues and think you might benefit from an intervention that is specifically tailored to meet your individual needs, please feel free to contact me on Tel: 07514 874561 or Email: kajal@drkajalpatel.co.uk.

I am based at Northwood Surgery, Argyle House, Joel Street, Northwood Hills. HA6 1NW.