Anxiety is one of our survival instincts. When faced with a threat, the human brain and body respond by activating safety mode. Adrenalin begins pumping which helps us prepare to escape danger.
Some people, including children, can react faster and more intensely to a situation they find as a threat. Some find it harder to get anxious feelings under control. Some children also perceive their world to be scarier or more dangerous than others.
Fearful and anxious behaviour is common in children as they encounter new experiences and situations. Most will learn to cope however, they may need some extra support if:
- They seem to feel anxious more than others of a similar age
- Their anxiety stops them participating in school activities or social settings
- Their anxiety hinders their ability to do things that others their age can do
- Their fears and worries seem out of proportion to the issues in their life
Anxiety in children can affect their thinking, where they perceive the fear or danger to be greater than it actually is. Thinking about it makes them more worried and tense. Anxiety can also affect children physically. Difficulty sleeping, headaches, stomach aches, diarrhoea, tiredness and irritability are some of the signs that a child’s anxiety is of a high level.
A child experiencing anxiety may often seek reassurance, avoid situations, attempt to get others to do tasks they are worried about, complain of physical pains, get upset easily and worry a lot.
Signs a child in your life may be struggling with anxiety include:
- Asking for help with things they can do themselves
- Avoiding getting ready or going to school
- Won’t sleep without an adult present
- Often complains of stomach pains or headaches
- Is scared of the dark or being alone
- Can often become upset over small things.
- Complains of being picked on
- Always sees the negative
Anxiety difficulties in children tend to be shown by a lack of confidence in their abilities and being overwhelmed easily. They will attempt to avoid the things that cause them these feelings and in turn, don’t experience the chance to learn that what they fear will usually not happen.
A common response from adults is to step in and solve the problem. This can be counterproductive in that by helping the child avoid a perceived scary situation, it is only fuelling and reinforcing their anxiety. This also robs them of the chance to develop coping skills and to prove to themselves they can deal with their thoughts and feelings.
You can help by working on coping and problem-solving skills together.
Some tips include:
- Slow down
- Climb that ladder
- Have a go
- Encourage positive thinking
- Help them take charge
- Be upfront about ‘scary’ stuff
- Make time to worry
- Check your own behaviour
The goal for most children isn’t to eliminate anxiety completely, it’s more about giving them the skills to manage that feeling next time and so it doesn’t affect their enjoyment of life.
If you feel anxiety is getting in the way of your child enjoying life then it may be time to seek some support. Seeking help early for the child is best. Support and guidance can be sort from your GP or medical provider. There are also various organisations and groups which could help, some of these include:
You can also access more information from your state or territory health department at https://www.health.gov.au/about-us/contact-us/local-state-and-territory-health-departments