10% of children have problems coping with anxiety*
Some children are very easy going and nothing seems to bother them. However many other children worry about all sorts of things, and when these normal everyday worries turn into anxiety it can be very difficult for a young person to participate in and experience school and life in general to the full. It can also interfere with their overall mental health and wellbeing, learning and development.
Anxiety disorders can cover a whole range of emotions and behaviours, from separation anxiety to shyness or an unwillingness to participate or make friends.
Some children are more pre-disposed towards anxiety and for some children there is a trigger event which contributes to the onset of anxiety disorders. They include:
- A child’s personality. Some children are more reserved and inward looking than others.
- An event. A specific event like a family separation, accident or a family relocation can trigger anxiety.
- Ongoing stress. This is when a stressful situation is ongoing and not resolved, it could include bullying at school.
- Learned anxiety. It is important that children are not exposed to traumatic events that are going on around the world without an adult being around to explain things to them at an age appropriate level. If left to ‘figure’ it out for themselves they may become insecure and feel the world is scary and dangerous place.
Tips on how to help children cope with anxiety disorders
Listen and reassure. To a child their worries are very real and usually very big. Do not dismiss their concerns, instead listen to them and help them work through the situation so they can see it is not as bad as it looks or they feel it is.
Stay calm. Children will learn by watching and seeing how you cope with stressful situations. Lead by example and show them how to cope positively and calmly when situations arise. This will help them feel more confident when trying to cope with their own anxieties.
Don’t be over protective. Try to create a safety net environment where young people will have a go at trying to cope with their anxiety. Praise them for their efforts and be reassuring. If you come in and take over it only teaches them to let someone else take responsibility when life is stressful.
Seek professional medical help. Early medical intervention is a good idea if the child is not functioning on an everyday level. Seek professional help from medical staff who can help put coping mechanisms in place and in some cases this can be assisted by medication until the child is confident using the coping strategies.
Working together. Successful treatment of anxiety disorders in young people is more effective if there is early intervention and a combined approach between parents and schools. Enlist the help of teaching staff who can assist with encouraging and putting into place agreed coping strategies.
* Macquarie University’s Faculty of Human Sciences