What is Anxiety? A state of uneasiness and apprehension, coming from the anticipation of a realistic or fantasized threatening event or situation Anxiety is a protection mechanism. It rings an alarm internally and helps us survive danger. This is perfectly normal, it can help protect us, and we all experience it from time to time.
There are three parts of anxiety: Thoughts (what we say to ourselves) Physical feelings (how our body responds) and Behaviours (our actions). [So, if I am worried about my mum not collecting me from school, this can cause a pain in my tummy, then this makes me want to avoid going to school.] Seeing the connection between thoughts, feelings and our behaviours can help children better understand anxiety.
Common fears associated with anxiety: Fear of making mistakes, or of making a fool of themselves in public; Fear of raising hand in class or reading out loud in class; Not sleeping in their own bedroom, and fear of attending sleepovers; School avoidance, citing sick tummy, headaches etc.
How to Help an Anxious Child
Children with anxiety, or who worry too much, need our love and support to help them find strategies to cope with their anxiety. You know there is nothing to worry about, so you tell them there is nothing to worry about. But of course this doesn't this work. Your anxious child wants to believe you, but their brain is in overdrive.
Your child will usually want to avoid the situation that causes anxiety. The flight part of the fight-flight-freeze response urges your child to escape the threatening situation. Helping children avoid the things they are afraid of will make them feel better in the short term, but it reinforces the anxiety over the long run. [For example, if your child fears dogs, and you avoid all places where you might meet a dog, the cause of the anxiety is not being addressed and your child will never learn that he can cope with this anxiety.
Don't make a promise you can't keep if your child is anxious that there might be turbulence on a plane journey, you cannot guarantee it won't happen. If she is anxious that the might forget her lines in the school play, again, you can't promise she won't.
Don't unintentionally reinforce fears (for example, showing anxiety yourself if a dog approaches). Keep anticipatory periods short thinking about going to the dentist is often worse than the experience. Sometimes we talk about what's ahead far too early.
You don't want to belittle a child's anxiety, but you also don't want to amplify it. The message is one of support: I know you are anxious, and I will try to help you get through this.
The best way to help children overcome anxiety isn't to try to remove stressors that trigger it. It's to support them to function as well as they can, even when they're anxious this results in a long term decrease in anxiety.
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