Children and anxiety
As a child, I had many fears and anxieties. I was afraid of my teachers, afraid of getting things wrong, afraid of the children in my class because they taunted me for being different, but no one ever knew this apart from me.
In this fast-paced life where so much appears to depend on others expectations and goals, worry and anxiety seem to be woven into the fabric of life. As an adult, we can use experience and rational thinking to reassure ourselves, but for children worries and fears can feel overwhelming.
Hearing repeated or loud arguments between their parents can lead them to believe that one of their parents will get hurt, or that they will split and they will be left to choose between them. Often there is a belief that the arguments are somehow their fault, and they feel powerless to do anything about it
An impending test at school, choosing friends, losing friends, being different from others, and high expectations of parents or teachers can all give rise to increased anxiety in children. When events in their life do not go as expected or hoped, they can often feel and take on the responsibility. This is seen so often in cases of bullying, the child who has become the victim of the bullies, believes that they are at fault. If they were stronger, brighter, prettier etc. then they wouldn’t be singled out and picked on by others.
Many children will have parents to whom they can confide their worries and fears, and who will be able to reassure them and help them resolve the problem.
And there are those who may feel ashamed to admit to their anxieties, believe they should put on a brave front, worry about worrying or disappointing their parents, or think that if they don’t say anything it will all go away.
A child who is anxious may be unusually quiet or withdrawn, irritable, tearful, prone to outbursts of anger or even excessively cheerful. They may show reluctance to go to school, to attend social events, or avoid times when they have to change in front of others.
If your child is showing patterns of behaviour that are not typical or normal to them, then it is likely that they are holding onto something that is worrying them.
Find a quiet time when you and your child can be together, ask them about good things that have happened during their day. Give them praise not just on achievements, but on their strengths, as well. Once they begin to relax and connect, then is the time to gently enquire if they have any worries. Reassure them that worries are part of being human and shows that they notice and care about what is going on around them. Finding words to compliment them on their observations and vulnerabilities, and exploring ways in which they can help to resolve their difficulties, will build on their self-esteem, helping them to feel more relaxed and self-confident. It will also give them healthy coping strategies for later in life.
If your child is reluctant to talk, let them know that you are there for them, and give them time to consider what they feel is best for them. When they feel they are ready to explore their feelings, they will usually find a way to let you know.
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