Anxiety in Children

Everybody can feel worried or stressed at various stages. However, how do you know when simple worries or stresses are becoming too much? And how can you recognise it in your child?

It is important to highlight that some worry and stress is healthy.  They are part of a built in survival instinct within the ‘fight or flight’ response which has the primary purpose of keeping us safe.  Stress and worry are also useful because they can allow us to challenge ourselves by trying different things. But in some people, these worries and stresses can begin to build to the point that it affects their ability to complete everyday tasks and activities.

Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder within Australia with one in four people experiencing it at some point in their lifetime. Anxiety can come in various forms including phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders, separation anxiety and social phobias.

Children can struggle greatly when it comes to coping with new situations. This can be for a variety of reasons, but most commonly it can result from the perception of danger surrounding a task, particularly if there is uncertainty or there has been a previously negative association with that particular task.

An important note to make is that it is common for children to have fearful and anxious behaviours. However for children experiencing anxiety, their behaviours will also begin to affect their thinking processes, i.e. their perception of the fear is unrealistically high in turn leading to ruminating or negative thoughts.

Some possible signs of anxiety in a child may include:

  • Constantly seeking the reassurance from others
  • Dislike or avoidance of new or difficult tasks
  • Getting easily upset or crying on a regular basis
  • Asking for assistance for tasks they can complete themselves
  • Is clingy to the point it is disruptive
  • Tries to get others, particularly adults to do things for them
  • Often complains of physical pains, e.g. headaches, tummy aches
  • Low self-esteem and confidence

For children experiencing anxiety, it is a natural response from the caregiver to want to step in and solve the problem, however this is not necessarily the best strategy. This is because by removing or allowing your child to avoid these situations you are unintentionally reinforcing their anxieties and removing opportunities to develop coping skills and resilience. Therefore it is important to give your child the opportunity to work through their fears in order to develop these highly important skills.

This can be done in numerous ways and it is important to find what works best for your child, but some strategies may include:

  • Talking openly about fears and worries- in particular about how realistic they are and why the fears may exist
  • Encouraging your child to have a go without pressure- it is not just about the result but of the process
  • Slowing down not only the thoughts but also the body in order to minimise the physical effects
  • Discussing all the potential outcomes of various situation in a matter-of-fact way whilst acknowledging the emotions that come along with anxious thoughts

For some practical strategies to help your child deal with their anxiety, book an appointment with one of our OT’s who specialise with mental health issues on 9913 3823. We will work with your child to help them deal with their anxiety and develop resilience. In addition we will provide advice for you on strategies to help your child at home.