I wrote this article because I wish something like this had been around for my parents to read when I was young and in the midst of dealing with something I didn’t understand. Luckily for the newer generations there is so much knowledge being shared when it comes to mental health. If I could contribute to that in some way that would make me happy. So I hope this reaches someone who needs to read this and I hope it leads to a child's recovery from anxiety. The younger me will finally heal from the past with those who are getting the help they need and deserve in the present.
Anxiety is hard to deal with when you’re an adult. It can hold you back from living the life you want to live and doing the things you want to do. Sometimes anxiety can hold you back from forming connections with people in your life and can take you down a very lonely dark path if not dealt with.
Now imagine how that would feel for a child. Being young and trying to understand your emotions is already hard enough, add anxiety to the mix and it can really put a strain on happiness. Sometimes parents and teachers mistake anxiety for behavioral issues and when it isn’t dealt with properly it can lead to bigger problems in the future.
When children experience new situations feelings of nervousness, fear and anxiety are common but when it’s constant and stops them from doing normal activities that other kids their age enjoy that’s when you should pay attention. Knowledge is power, which is why learning about mental health is important for parents. If you can carve out a path for your child that leads to health and happiness that is the perfect start to a brighter future.
What is anxiety?
It’s a normal emotion to feel anxious sometimes but it becomes a problem when that feeling of worry is constant. Anxiety comes in many forms, it’s excessive worry, fear or nervousness. It’s percieving situations to be worse then they are, or constantly worrying about situations that other people don’t usually worry about. Anxiety is having an excessive amount of fear in situations that other’s don’t think twice about. It’s when there’s a heavy feeling weighing you down and niggling at you every day and it can feel a lot more intense for children.
Here are a few types of anxiety disorders:
- Generalised anxiety
- Social anxiety
- Separation anxiety
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Specific phobia
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Selective mutism
Some signs of anxiety in children:
- Poor concentration
- Always needing reassurance
- Restless sleep
- Refusing to go to school
These types of behaviors sometimes become more intense over time and are labeled as troublesome instead of anxiety. It leads to the parent feeling frustrated and not understanding why the child is acting a certain way but it can be managed with the right strategies.
What causes anxiety?
A number of factors could have caused anxiety. Sometimes it’s genetics or environmental factors and sometimes it’s because of both.
Some factors include:
- Loss — Death of a family member, friend or pet
- Family environment
- Specific life events
- Pressure from home or school
- Witnessing something traumatic
- How to help your child cope with anxiety
- Create a supportive environment for the child
Don’t dismiss the child’s worries, be supportive and listen to what it is that they are worried about. Help them to understand their feelings and show them ways of coping. Constant reassurance might be exhausting but anxiety is a lot more exhausting to deal with. Children need to know things will be alright regardless of what is happening in their lives. Stability is needed in a child’s life for their mental wellbeing.
Be a good role model for healthy coping mechanisms
Children are very aware of what is going on around them. They pick up on our habits more then we realise. If you’re someone who gets stressed easily and shows it in negative ways it might be time to change that behavior. Model healthy coping mechanisms by not only telling the child but showing them that ‘hey this situation isn’t so bad/scary/stressful. So if you show your child that you can handle stressful situations calmly and positively they will follow your lead.
Going through the child's worries and talking it over with them
Let your child tell you what worries them and try to understand where they are coming from. Listen and let them ask questions, answer honestly and try to avoid dismissing their fears. Try to show them why they shouldn’t worry. For example, if your child is worried that they will miss the bus home ask them what would happen if they did miss the bus. Most likely the answer would be that a teacher can help, even though the solution is simple and you know the child shouldn’t worry, they don’t know just how simple a problem can be fixed because they’re too worried about the ‘what if’s’ of it all. By talking about their fears you can help them to see solutions and that will put the child's mind at ease.
Help them face their fears
Don’t let children avoid their fears, that is only a short term fix. We want a long term fix and that is helping them to face their fears. Take baby steps. If a child is afraid of swimming don’t just throw them in and hope they’ll get over their fear, show them that learning to swim can be fun. Let them see other children playing in a pool and having fun, let them dip their feet in but don’t pressure them to start swimming right away. These things take time, so have patience.
Find a therapist for your child, this will not only help them but it will also help you. You will be able to ask questions on how to help your child and techniques you can use at home to help them cope with their anxiety.
My own experience with anxiety
When I was a child I dealt with anxiety and a lot of it. As a child, you don’t know what it is and why you feel this way. You might even think it’s normal to constantly worry. I wish mental health had been a big deal back in the ’90s and early 2000s. I wish someone had realised that I wasn’t ‘normal’ and tried to help me, but no one did and that isn’t any one’s fault. It was a different time 20+ years ago, and luckily for the newer generations we are all getting our shit together — I hope.
I was the kid who didn’t like participating in anything and I didn’t understand why other kids loved playing competitive games or why the other children were so eager to get up during show and tell. I dreaded school assemblies and quite literally would pray to God that my name wouldn’t be called for an award in front of the whole school while other children loved getting awards. And instead of being excited that I did get an award I would feel dread about getting up in front of the school and disappointment that my prayers hadn’t been heard.
I didn’t realise other kids didn’t constantly feel nervous about schoolwork and tests. Sure, they probably worried about it too but mine was a constant worry that would make me feel sick to the stomach. All this nervousness made me fall behind in class which added to the stress of it all and when the new school year came around I would constantly fret that I might not be in the same class as my friend. I worried about which teacher I would get and how hard the work was going to be. Would the teacher be mean? Would they pick on me? Were there bullies in my class again? Who did I have to sit next to? I had so many worries and didn’t realise it wasn’t normal to live like that.
As I grew up the anxiety grew with me. I’ve learned how to deal with it luckily, but my heart aches for children who are suffering without anyone realising what is going on. Being a kid and having mental health issues is awful, that’s why I’m writing this article to help parents notice the signs and become a little more aware of their children’s mental health. I hope I can help at least one kid with this article.
Be kind, gentle and patient with children. They are our future.