AT some point in their lives, children may experience a feeling of apprehension or even danger. And while it may be a one-off occasion for some children, anxiety, which is identified as one of the most common disorders affecting children, can be a haunting shadow.
Clinical psychologist Dr Pearnel Bell says that some children may continue to respond anxiously to many situations that they encounter, but there are a number of ways in which parents can help them to manage the sometimes debilitating condition.
“Anxiety is a major problem for many children. They freak out about going to school, about a competition, because they don't feel they will do well, or that they will forget and embarrass themselves and their parents, because of fears and insecurities. So if you realise this is recurring in your child, you will have to address it without causing further stress,” Dr Bell said.
She said that the first step to correcting or better equipping your child to manage anxiety is by first getting your child to share the source of the anxiety as well as working to identify these in cases where your child is not verbal or only slightly verbal.
“When talking to your child about anxiety, it is important not to trivialise things that they get anxious about, because you don't want to trample on their self-esteem in the process, so you must be very careful,” Dr Bell cautioned.
Below she shares how you can help to reduce anxiety in your child:
1. Remind your child that it is natural to feel anxious sometimes
Let your child know that it is OK to be anxious. However, don't encourage the source of the anxiety, and don't make your child feel stupid for feeling anxious. Often when children are anxious, what they need more than anything is to feel safety and comfort. Therefore, keep your tone and your actions calm, welcoming and smooth.
2. Teach your child calming techniques
You won't always be there when your child experiences a situation that triggers his or her anxiety, so you should teach children how to escape the anxiety cycle. Teach them breathing exercises – you can even help them by practising a similar breathing technique. Your child can also draw or make doodles to help him/her feel better, especially if the child doesn't want to verbalise their feelings. Another method is the use of calming music, instrumentals, or even a calming sound like the rain, which is usually very effective. Another proven method would be doing something that they love or taking them to a place that they enjoy, such as the beach. Even thinking about these things can help children to relax.
3. Encourage your child to be physically active
There are many benefits to be derived from exercise. Not only does it help to release body tension, but it relaxes the body and mind. Therefore, you should encourage children to play and get involved in sports, if they like it.
4. Show the child love
Give the child attention and affection. Children require these to feel safe. Parents can provide comfort by hugging them and giving reassurance. In the same breath, you could also use time spent together to teach your child to talk about their feelings. This will help them to be less confused and stressed.
Dr Bell advises that if you explore multiple coping mechanisms with your children but they don't seem to be improving or responding well, then you should seek professional intervention. In addition, she said that children should be assessed to determine if anxiety is affecting their schoolwork and social functioning.