Children can be plagued with a variety of different anxieties or worries.
Common anxieties can include:
- social – the fear of interaction with other people or being the focus of attention
- separation – when a child can’t be without their parents
- generalised – worrying about many areas of life including school, health, sporting achievements, money, health, schoolwork and or safety.
When should I become concerned?
Anxiety becomes a concern when it stops your child from doing things they want to do or interferes with friendships, schoolwork or family life. It can also become a concern if your child’s anxiety leads to them not sleeping well or seeming unhappy because they are worried a lot of the time.
What can I do to help my child?
If you notice your child is becoming anxious, these are some good steps to follow.
- Be calm and reassuring in your words, voice and facial expression. You want them to feel you are ‘on their side’ not fighting against them, or standing behind them, pushing and prodding.
- Acknowledge their fear – don’t dismiss or ignore it.
- Gently encourage them to do things they’re anxious about - don’t push them to if they don’t want to.
- Wait until they actually get anxious before stepping in to help.
- Praise them for doing something they’re anxious about, rather than criticising for being afraid. Also, encourage them to acknowledge to themselves their sense of mastery and accomplishment. “Wow, that is fantastic that you did that even though you were not too sure about it. How does it feel to have done that?”
- Avoid labelling your child as ‘shy’ or ‘anxious’.
It can be difficult to know the line between being gently encouraging and pushy. If your child is concerned about participating in a certain activity break it down into smaller, more manageable components. Find out what your child is willing to try and let them know it will be ok with you, whether or not they manage to complete it.
Breaking the activity up into smaller time components can be helpful. For example if it is a team game encourage them to participate for 2 or 5 minutes. This can be extended as they gain confidence or if they are older. Let them know that they might feel proud of themselves for having a go, despite feeling anxious. Keep a timer on, to reassure the child, and to let them know when their participation time is up.
Or if it is a sleepover they are worried about, work up to it gradually by breaking it down into segments. Encourage the child to stay for dinner at their friend’s place, and then pick them up after the meal is over. When they feel confident doing that you can suggest going the next step and work out with the child what would make it easier for them. For example they could take their teddy, have a parent join them for breakfast or arrange for the child to call as soon as they wake in the morning.
What strategies can I use to help my child?
You can help to reduce your child’s stress by encouraging them to take slow deep breaths to calm their breathing, and by having your child tense various muscles and then relax them.
Writing about worries
It can be helpful to get your child to write down some of their worries on paper. Then ask them to write down what they could say or do to help them feel less worried about those things. Children often like it if they have a special notebook to record their worries in. And having them all together in a notebook makes it easier to go back and remind them about what they have accomplished.
This is a good activity that can help reduce the amount of time your child spends being worried. Designate a 15 minute period each day for Worry Time. Set a timer and encourage your child to put their worries into words and say whatever they want to say about what is causing them anxiety. Make sure there are no interruptions during this time – this includes TV, phone calls or other siblings. Encourage your child to save thinking about their worries until it is worry time. This will help them spend only a small amount of time each day thinking about their anxieties rather than spend all day on them, which can make it worse.
If there comes a time when your child no longer needs ‘Worry Time’ you should keep spending the 15 minutes with them, but perhaps rename it ‘Talk Time’.
Where can I get extra support?
If your child needs further support contact 4Families, the Family Mental Health Support Service (FMHSS), run by Relationships Australia WA in Kwinana at 6160 4200 or in Albany at 9845 7700. Click here to access their web page.