Anxiety in children - reasons to relax
Tessa was distraught. Her anxious, seven-year-old son, Daniel, had had another tantrum before going to school that morning.
Full of anxiety he had pleaded with her that he had a tummy bug. But he’d already missed a few days this term, and the teachers were concerned about his attendance and withdrawn behaviour.
So Tessa forced him to go, and now she was the one with tears rolling down her face as she felt unable to reach her anxious child.
Nothing she tried seemed to help
Her mind was full of unanswered questions: What had she done to cause this? What could she do to help? And why did he seem so anxious these days? He used to love school and had always slept well. Now he had bouts of being scared about going to bed and had to have a light on all the time.
She had tried being gentle and then firm, nothing seemed to calm him down. With school beginning to put some pressure on and other parents noticing the changes she felt powerless, upset and anxious about what this meant for the Daniel's future.
Some reassuring facts
If you or someone you know finds themselves in a similar position remember that millions of parents have found themselves going through the same phase with their children, and like them, this difficult time will most likely pass.
Daniel's anxiety could have been triggered by many factors, such as:
- Learnt responses from peers or relatives
- Poor nourishment
- Magical thinking - typical of young children. My goddaughter went through a phase of being really scared in her bedroom; we did everything to no avail. It was only when we smelt the dead rat that she had put under the bed that she confessed to doing so because it would eat the ghost that came from beneath the floorboards at night.
- Worrying about something of an unsettling experience in the past. Sometimes they will be able to articulate this and other times the cause for the anxiety has gone but there remains a habitual response beyond their conscious grasp.
What you can do to help
But don't look too hard for reasons why it happened; it won't necessarily give you a solution. As Tessa discovered she only saw improvement when she followed the following tips:
- Learn to relax with 7:11 breathing and scaling. Your worry will stop you from thinking clearly and indicate to the child that there is something to be concerned about.
- Look at what your child enjoys or is doing well at and focus on that for a few days. You will all benefit from taking the attention away from the problem. This will help the child relax and minimise the perceived problem.
- Spend more time with them doing fun things such as, painting, playing games and reading stories; it will make you both feel better.
- Try to ensure the child is eating food that will nourish his or her brain and body. The chemicals that are in junk food can cause all sorts of physical problems that cause emotional disruption in the young.
- After everyone has relaxed a little, use the play time to try to change the pattern of their anxiety. Ask them to draw a picture of themselves not feeling happy in the problem situation, then have them draw it again, showing themselves as happy. Use paints, dolls, pipe cleaners, clay -- anything that comes to mind. Even talk about the situation in the third person i.e. 'that little girl there.' Get them to describe the scene in full and colourful detail.
- If you know a cartoon or popular character that they are interested in, ask them to imagine what it would be like to be like them and what they would do to help out. For instance if they like Harry Potter, ask them to close their eyes and see Harry make them a magic potion that makes them feel happy. If they enjoy the website Claire's Accessories then ask them to go into the wardrobe and pick out an outfit that would make them brave in a given situation. Ask them to really picture these imaginary situations in great detail.
- Check that their basic needs are being met.
- Sometimes the way that a child interprets the world will cause him to feel anxious. For example, if he thinks that he is not good at something, he may worry about his performance and possible failure. That will often cause him to refuse to put himself in a situation where he might not do well. Helping him changing the way in which he interprets the world can turn a situation around very quickly, so listen to the child's concerns, but be very reassuring and keep reminding him about the things that he does well. Martin Seligman an internationally known expert in the field of Positive Psychology has written a helpful book 'How to Raise an Optimistic Child' that may give a few more insights.
After following many of the above steps Tessa gradually saw Daniel relax and as he did he integrated more with the other kids and found enjoyment in the classroom again. The added bonus to this situation was that she felt much closer to Daniel and more reassured that these 'weird blips' happen to lots of kids. They are no one's fault - they're just one of those natural phases of development.
Anxiety in children can go as quickly as it came. Taking your focus off the problem and enjoying what is working, will calm the situation, enable the child to have some fun and give him or her a new and more beneficial way of understanding it.