Anxiety is affecting many children, especially post-Covid. There is an increase in emotionally based school avoidance. We look at this and managing anxiety in your child.
A recent NHS study estimated that 1 in 8 young people suffer from anxiety. Anxiety is a natural human response to stress or potential danger. It is a feeling of unease or fear about something that may happen. Sometimes anxiety is a common part of life, such as feeling nervous before a test or starting a new school. Excessive and persistent anxiety that interferes with daily life may indicate an anxiety disorder.
This blog offers tips and support for parents to help when their child is feeling anxious.
All young people will feel anxious at some point. Common causes of anxiety in young people are:
Children’s anxiety may show through their behaviour. Common signs of anxiety are:
You could say to your child you’ve noticed a change in their behaviour or mood. You could say something like, ‘You seem a bit wobbly today. Is everything OK? I’m wondering if you’re a bit worried about something?’
Explain to your child that it’s normal to be anxious. Help them to find words to express their feelings. For example, wobbly, scared, anxious, nervous, and unsettled. Ask them where the feeling is. ‘Is it in your tummy, head, or heart?’ Tell them everyone has worries and that they can become too big to handle without help. Explain that avoiding our worries can make them bigger.
Talk about being brave together and working out small steps to tackle worries. Think with your child about what might happen if a fear came true and how they would handle it. For instance, ‘What could you do if you didn’t have anyone to sit with at lunch at school?’
It’s important not to dismiss your child’s feelings. Do not tell them they are being silly or that there is nothing to worry about. Listen and offer support. Take steps to resolve the issue that is worrying them.
Think about what helps your child calm down: rocking, having a warm drink, snuggling up. Help them to do this when they are feeling anxious.
Make a ‘calm bag’ they can use when they get anxious—for example, a fidget toy, threading beads, or a favourite book.
Try a breathing exercise. You could ask your child to breathe in and out slowly while counting to ten. Younger children could put their favourite soft toy on their tummy and watch it rise and fall as they breathe.
You could also put glitter and water inside a plastic bottle. Shake it up and ask your child to breathe slowly while they watch the glitter settle.
When we get anxious, our bodies prepare to cope with something difficult. This is called the ‘fight or flight’ response. In ‘fight or flight’, our hearts beat faster, we sweat more, and our muscles tense. It often helps to do something active to release these feelings and feel better. Encourage your child to play sports or exercise to help overcome their anxiety.
Sleep and diet are essential factors in reducing anxiety. They directly impact our physical and mental health.
When we sleep, our body and brain can rest, repair, and rejuvenate. Lack of sleep or poor sleep can contribute to increased anxiety levels. Sleep deprivation affects our ability to regulate emotions, cope with stress, and think clearly. Tiredness can intensify anxious thoughts and feelings.
Young people usually need at least 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Sleep promotes emotional stability, cognitive function, and overall well-being. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule can help achieve this. A sleep schedule includes:
The food we consume can significantly impact our mental health and anxiety levels.
Consuming a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-rich foods is important. Adequate intake of essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc can support brain function and emotional well-being, potentially reducing anxiety symptoms.
Fluctuations in blood sugar levels can contribute to feelings of anxiety and irritability. A diet that includes complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits, vegetables) and balanced amounts of protein can help stabilise blood sugar levels and promote a more stable mood.
Stimulants like caffeine can increase heart rate, trigger restlessness, and exacerbate feelings of anxiety. Limiting or avoiding excessive caffeine intake can benefit those prone to anxiety. Energy drinks include high levels of caffeine and are very dangerous for young people.
How you cope with your anxiety will help your child cope with their worries and fears. Taking time to talk about worries with your child, and showing them how to cope, can really help them.
Look after yourself too. Talk to other adults, you’re not alone, and your child’s anxiety can make you anxious too.
You can speak to your child’s school or your GP if you are worried about your own or your child’s anxiety, and they can provide further support and guidance.
We hope this blog was helpful. Bright Heart tutors are well equipped to support children who are feeling anxious about school. We provide academic support but also mentor students so that they are able to cope in situations that they find challenging. Please feel free to get in touch with us should you have any questions about support for your child. We enjoy talking with parents and helping our students by tailoring learning to their individual needs.
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