Understanding anxiety in children

Anxiety in children can manifest in many ways, from physical symptoms like headaches and stomachaches to behavioral changes like irritability and avoidance. Understanding the root causes and signs of anxiety is the first step in helping your child manage it effectively.

a person with anxiety, brain is spiraling, and six ideas for ways to support children with anxiety coming off the person.

1. Create a Safe and Open Environment

Children need to feel safe and understood. Encourage open communication by actively listening to their concerns without judgment. Validate their feelings and let them know it’s okay to feel anxious. This approach helps them feel supported and less alone in their struggles.

If a child tells you they are worried, scared, afraid, upset it is really tempting to say ‘there is nothing to be worried about….’. We want to take their fear or anxiety away but that isn’t validating their fears, it is minimising them and to them those fears or emotions are very real. Perhaps instead try ‘it’s ok to be worried/scared/upset, thank you for telling me how you are feeling, that is really brave of you to tell me. How can I help you right now?’

2. Teach Them About Anxiety

Educating your child about anxiety can demystify their experiences. Explain how anxiety affects their brain and body, making it clear that anxiety is a normal response to stress. Use age-appropriate language and tools, such as our downloadable mindfulness coloring book, to make the learning process engaging and accessible.

You know your child but an example might be ‘Our brain wants to protect us and keep us safe so sometimes it tells us to be worried about things that might hurt us and that might be what stops us from running across a busy road and we stop and look both ways before we cross the road. Sometime our brain gets confused and anxiety is like your brain’s way of trying to protect you by making you feel really worried or scared when you’re safe and there isn’t any real danger.’ You can give examples of what anxiety feels like, it might be like butterflies in your tummy, or feel like there is a storm inside of you, you might feel your heart beating faster etc.

3. Develop Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Equip your child with practical strategies to manage anxiety in the moment. Techniques like deep breathing, visualisation, and progressive muscle relaxation can help them calm their mind and body. Encourage regular practice of these techniques so they become second nature during stressful situations.

Ever hear of training FOR the situation not IN the situation? We don’t practice our fire drill for the first time when there are flames licking the door. Instead, we practice our fire drills when we are calm and safe and we can think clearly. Then, if we are in a situation where fire is a threat we know what to do. It’s the same with anxiety. Don’t practice WHEN you are anxious, practice when you are calm so if there is a time you are anxious you know the skills to help self settle. Here’s a simple one:

 

4. Create a Consistent Routine

A consistent routine provides a sense of security and predictability, which can significantly reduce anxiety. Ensure your child has regular meal times, bedtimes, and study periods. Including fun and relaxing activities in their daily schedule can also help them unwind and recharge.

You know your child. What fills them up and leaves them feeling calm and relaxed? What depletes them and leaves them feeling anxious and overwhelmed? Find ways to ensure that those activities that fill them up are part of their routines and those activities that leave them feeling overwhelmed are minimised. Also know that every child is different. Some children might need more help with their routines than others (authors note: sleep is really important, my first child was so on to it with her bedtime, we would be out and she would be letting us know ‘Mummy, it’s nearly my bedtime, will we be going home soon?’ She could go from awake and playing to jammies, toilet, teeth and bed in the blink of an eye. My youngest child however is nothing like that. If I want her in bed by 7.30pm I need to start the bedtime routine at about 5.30pm! My point is; consistent and routine may not look the same for all of your children. Think equity not equality, some kids are going to need more support around that consistent routine than others.)

 5. Encourage Physical Activity

Physical activity is a natural stress reliever. Encourage your child to engage in regular exercise, whether it’s playing a sport, dancing, or simply running around outside. Exercise releases endorphins, which can improve mood and reduce anxiety levels. Even better than encouraging them to engage in physical activity, get out them with them and join in. Physical activity is not just good for kids’ anxiety it is really good for helping parents mental and emotional wellbeing. The more relaxed we are the better able to support our kids we will be. Physical activity doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or even take a lot of time, it can be as simple as heading outside and playing catch, or maybe you can make an obstacle course, what about balloon volleyball or just put on some music and dance around the kitchen.

6. Model Healthy Behavior

Children often mimic the behavior of their parents. By managing your own stress and anxiety effectively, you can set a positive example for your child. Show them healthy ways to cope with stress, such as talking about your feelings, practicing mindfulness, and taking time for self-care.

Often as parents we think we need to be perfect, and we don’t want our kids to see that we are struggling. It can be really powerful for our kids to hear us say ‘I’m feeling a bit worried at the moment, but I know there isn’t really anything to be worried about. My brain is playing tricks on me. I’m going to do …. to shake the worries away’ or ask your kids to help you come up with a solution ‘I’m feeling a bit worried ….. My brain is playing tricks on me. What do you think I can do to reset so I can feel better?’ If you don’t like the suggestion you can say ‘oh good idea, what else could I try?’ until you get an idea that you do want to do!

Bonus Tip: Consider Professional Support

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your child’s anxiety may require professional intervention. Don’t hesitate to seek help from a child psychologist or counsellor who can provide specialised support and strategies tailored to your child’s needs. If you want more information you could check out the services on our sister organisation website.

Discover More with Our Supporting Children with Anxiety Course

If you found these tips helpful and want to dive deeper into understanding and managing your child’s anxiety, our Supporting Children with Anxiety course is designed for you. With over an hour of informative content, practical activities, and expert strategies, this course offers a comprehensive guide to supporting your child through their anxiety.

Course Highlights:

  • In-the-Moment Activities: Techniques to help your child self-regulate during anxiety episodes.
  • Effective Communication Strategies: Ways to better understand and address your child’s needs.
  • Proactive Approaches: Methods to support your child before anxiety escalates.
  • Practical Activities: Engaging exercises that you and your child can do together.

 

Helping your child manage anxiety is a journey, but with the right tools and strategies, you can make a significant positive impact. By creating a supportive environment, teaching them about anxiety, and equipping them with effective coping mechanisms, you’re setting them up for success. Remember, you’re not alone in this—resources like our Supporting Children with Anxiety course are here to guide you every step of the way.

For more tips and insights, check out our other blog posts on Hidden World of You.

Together, we can help your child navigate their anxiety and build a more confident, resilient future.

Download your FREE Supporting a child with Anxiety Toolkit HERE!

Get your free toolkit HERE!

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