Helping children to cope
Let’s be honest most of us have felt at least a little, if not a lot, of anxiety over the past few weeks. The UK has been in lockdown for nearly a month and our lives have changed in ways that I certainly could not have predicted at the beginning of 2020. This is equally true for children who in the last month have left school – possible for good in some cases, stopped being able to go outside freely, play with their friends and see their family. Mums and dads may be around more or less depending on their roles and it is probable that at times our kids have noticed our anxiety. Many parents are feeling the strain of trying to work whilst home schooling or managing to feed and provide for children when their income has all but disappeared. Front line carers face the fear of becoming unwell themselves.
As always in social media can be both a blessing and a curse. Groups have sprung up all over offering tips and help for parents. Of course this is often useful and it can be really helpful to know that you are in the same boat as others, but sometimes seeing the wonderful activities that other people are getting up to with their kids can just add to the pressure.
We are all doing our best
Try to be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you are not managing to bake that bread from scratch just now! No one has a rule book explaining how to handle this and we are all doing our best in the circumstances that we find ourselves in. So this is not another blog telling you what to do, but hopefully some ideas that could help you to understand the anxiety your children may be feeling at this time.
Anxiety in Kids
According to figures from Anxiety UK 1 in 6 young people will experience an anxiety condition at some point in their lives. This figure is likely to increase over the next few months. I work with children and young people on a regular basis and know that it is normal for children to experience anxiety (just as it is for adults). It is well recognised that pre school children will often experience separation anxiety when they leave their main carer, young children commonly develop a fear or a phobia (fear of the dark or dogs for example) and after puberty social anxiety can occur. Anxiety may start as a result of a specific event – moving house, schools of exams, or a traumatic experience such as an accident. Changes can be difficult and even if they are positive and can cause anxiety in kids and adults. Family arguments, bullying and puberty can also be triggers for anxiety. Children will typically grow out of a lot of these conditions, however when anxiety starts to interfere with their everyday life and functioning (home, school and friendships) it becomes a problem. As a result of Covid-19 most children are facing very big changes to their “normal” life and it stands to reason that this may cause anxiety, even if this has not been a problem before. Children may be happy most of the time and just experience anxiety in certain situations.
How to recognise anxiety in kids
Very young children usually don’t have the words to explain anxiety so the signs may not be obvious at first – sleep disturbance such as bad dreams, waking in the night and difficulty getting to sleep may be a sign, as well as bed wetting, tummy ache, irritability, tearfulness and clingy behaviour. In older children you may see a reduction in their confidence and self esteem, angry or explosive outbursts, sleep disturbance or change in appetite, reduced concentration, fidgety behaviour, negative thoughts (worry about bad things happening) and avoidance of certain situations (school and friends).
How to help
Talk about it – anxiety is a normal part of life experience by everyone. It is ok to feel anxious sometimes. So ask your kids how they are feeling just now and let them know how you are feeling too. It is important to explain to children what is going on at the moment, without making it too scary. If children don’t get an explanation then they will often fill in the gaps for themselves and this can be far more frightening than the actual facts.
Explain what is happening – anxiety causes a lot of physical symptoms and which are scary if you don’t understand what is going on. A pounding heart, butterflies in the stomach or difficulty catching your breath are all part of the fight or flight response, designed to prepare us to face danger. They are also really scary feelings if you don’t know why they are happening. Talking to kids about the fight or flight response helps them to understand that they are safe even if they have some uncomfortable feelings in their body and allows them to use techniques to control those feelings
Help them to find solutions – it is really helpful to be honest about anxiety, but it is also important to help children find a way to help themselves feel better. Asking what has helped in the past, getting children to think about situations where they felt brave and confident and practicing breathing techniques so that they can control their own symptoms is really useful. Let them know that there is something they can do to feel better.
Recognise the signs – teaching children about the physical signs of anxiety is a really great way of helping them to recognsie how they are feeling and allows them to do somthing about it.
Encourage asking for help – let kids know that it is ok to ask for help if they feel anxious and that you will be there to listen to their worries. You may not always have the answer, especially at the moment, but you can be there to support them and help them focus on the present rather than the what ifs.
Avoid avoidance – We tend to avoid things which are difficult or scary and children are no exception to this. As a parent we want to protect our children so it can be tempting to help them to avoid certain situations, but in the long term this is counter productive as it only makes the situation more scary. Try to gently support and encourage kids to do the things they want to avoid, without getting angry when they can’t manage it.
Routine – even though things have changed for most of us dramatically, having some sort of structure and routine to the day can be really helpful. It gives children a sense of security. Having said that be realistic about what you can achieve and try not to beat yourself up if things don’t go to plan!
Understanding feelings – this is an unsettling time and children may face upsetting events such a bereavement – it is important to allow them to talk about their feelings, whatever they may be and to explore them together.
Prepare for change – we know that change is scary so if you do know that something new will be happening – for example when they eventually go back into school, it is helpful to prepare children as much as you can. Talk about their fears and what to expect.
Try to control you own anxiety – children often pick up on the feelings of their parents so if you are feeling particularly overwhelmed or anxious it would be useful to get your own help, take a short time out. Reducing the amount of news and social media you are exposed to is a good first step, talking about how you feel with another adult and meditation and breathing techniques are helpful.
Teaching children techniques to manage anxiety – there is a lot of help out there at the moment – breathing techniques, distraction and creating a worry box are good ways of teching kids to manage anxiety themselves. I have made a series of YouTube videos that you can access using the following link with realxation techniques for children and parents -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKutH9-agaY&feature=youtu.be
Get help- if you feel that your child’s anxiety is really inteferring with their day to day life seek help. You can still contact your GP, look at organisations such as Anxiety UK and the NHS website or think about a talking treatment such as Hypnotherapy.
Childhood anxiety is often a precursor to anxiety in adulthood, especially if it goes unrecognised. Many adults who suffer from anxiety disorders remember feeling anxious in childhood. People who suffer from anxiety for a long period of time are at increased rick of developing depression.
If you would like to know more about anxiety or how hypnotherapy can help please contact me on 07769892376 or visit my website www.hypnotherapistinleeds.co.uk