As an adult it may be difficult for us to understand what a child could possibly have to be anxious about. They don’t have a job or a mortgage or any of the responsibilities that we as adults have to balance. While this may be true child anxiety is a very real thing and something that plagues as many as 1 in 4 children.
Being a parent of a child with anxiety I know first hand how debilitating it can be and the impact it can have on other children in the house and the family unit as a whole.
Nail biting, lip chewing, shirt chewing, paper tearing, pencil biting these are just a few of the more subtle outward signs you may see in a child with anxiety. But the more serious and often more concerning signs are often the ones you don’t see.
These are the signs of the ‘Internalizer’. All appears fine for the most part on the surface but underneath, inside they are being pushed around by the bully that is anxiety.
Anxiety comes is many forms and is a friend to many other bullies; separation anxiety, generalized anxiety, performance anxiety, depression, and OCD just to name a few.
These silent enemies threaten to replace fun with fear, adventure with dread and curiosity with doubt. I have seen it physically attack my son with hives, stomach-aches, bed-wetting, and endless tears. I have also seen it attack his spirit creating fear, uncertainty, doubt, and sadness.
So many children and their families think they must suffer with these common mental illnesses or that they aren’t serious enough to warrant treatment. I could not disagree more. If anxiety and its gang of trouble makers is affecting your everyday life and the life of your child then help is definitely available and warranted.
The trick is to learn tools and coping skills that will allow your child to push back against anxiety. But how hard to push and in what levels and situations is something that is different for each child. Even more difficult is that what works for a specific child can vary greatly as they develop and mature.
There are many strategies and coping tools that can help a child with anxiety. The difficulty is finding what works best for your child. What works for one will not necessarily work for another. My son and I are in a continuous state of learning when it comes to how best to support him. The steps I list below are what is working currently for my son. This has changed and grown over the years and I will expect it to continue to do so. I share these in the hope that perhaps one or two may work for your child as you navigate through the options for coping that will fit your child.
5 Steps to Pushing Back Against Anxiety:
Call Out the Bully
It’s easy to mistake some of the symptoms of anxiety in children with unfocused and/or bad behaviour. Identifying your child’s anxiety and what triggers it is a huge step towards controlling it, but calling out anxious behaviours and triggering situations is just as crucial. Call out the bully, don’t let anxiety secretly push your child around. This isn’t something we do out in public or in the classroom but at home we talk about the day and any triggering incident has taken place we call it what it is and my son can then take back control of that moment. When anxiety peaks at home I do my best to call it as I see it. Naming anxiety and other secretive disorders like OCD immediately gives them less power. It’s empowering to the child and really is very effective in putting things into perspective.
The Long Exhale
Anxiety not only creates a mental response in the mind but also a physical one. A sense of panic, the need to run or escape is often described. This can lead to a racing heart and quick shallow breathing.
By simply becoming aware of their breathing your child can work to bring their anxiety levels down into a range they can cope with. This is easier said than done, especially for children. When my son was 7 and the idea of breathing as a skill was introduced it was a disaster. Bringing awareness to his breathing only made him breath quicker and more panicked as he tried to complete the breathing exercises.
At 11 years old he is now able to use this skill more effectively and I know this is one that will be huge for him in the future as well. It takes practice, during a non-anxious period to get the feeling you want to try to recreate when an anxious episode is triggered. I just encourage my son to focus on a long exhale. I don’t really put a number of breaths or seconds in and out as that seems to trip him up. Just slow long breaths.
Channel Anxious Energy
Another way to keep anxious energy from building or from coming out in destructive ways (lip chewing, nail biting, paper tearing or eating) is to use fidget tools. Anxiety has to have an outlet and most children and adults will naturally find one. Unfortunately these may not always be healthy or appropriate. Using a fidget tool like the ones I have pictured here are a great way to give anxious energy somewhere to go without being distracting or destructive. These have been really helpful for my son.
I love this stuff and have been using for years. The Bach Flower Remedies work in conjunction with herbs, homeopathy and medications and are safe for everyone. Rescue Remedy helps relax, focus and calm. We have recently moved from the drops to the pastilles so my son can have them at hand at school for those times when anxiety spikes. It has been a huge help! You can learn more about Rescue Remedy here: http://www.bachflower.com/rescue-remedy-information/
Take a Minute
This seems so simple but it’s one that is not always supported in the school system. Having the ability to just step out of an anxiety-provoking situation to ‘regroup’ can be huge towards avoiding a total meltdown or escalation of symptoms. Not only does this provide an opportunity to step away from the thing/situation that has triggered the anxiety it can also allow for some of the other tools to be put into action prior to rejoining the situation.
Thank you so much for taking time out of you busy day to read this post. My hope is that if your child or you struggle with anxiety you will be able to take away something helpful or encouraging from this post. I have also created a quick reference printable called 5 Steps Against Anxiety - Everyday Journalista 2016 you can print off.
If you have some tools that have worked for your child I would love to hear them as well.