Anxiety in kids. How to know what it is and what to do.
So how has your week started?
Are you anxious about a project deadline? Or is it a move to a new job or home?
Continuing with the theme of emotions (World Emoji Day, after all) let's talk about something that we do not want to acknowledge in ourselves; something that parents have to deal with many times - anxiety! Just like adults feel anxious about an upcoming presentation at the office, hosting a large dinner party, or visits from relatives, etc., kids have their own reasons to feel anxious. A friend moving away, moving to a new place or city, new daycare routine, change in caregivers etc. can trigger anxiety.
How can you tell that your child is anxious?
Anxiety manifests itself in physical signs, emotional signs, and behavior.
Physical signs of anxiety can range from stomach aches, refusal to eat, refusal to sleep.
Emotional signs of anxiety are crying a lot, anger and temper tantrums, panic attacks, a constant need for reassurance, nightmares.
Behavioral symptoms of anxiety include fearfulness, reclusive behavior, long periods of unnatural quiet, approval-seeking and attention-seeking, refusal to go to school or daycare, lack of confidence, tantrums.
What are the different types of anxiety?
We have all heard of separation anxiety and even have cracked a few jokes on it probably. But for a child, it is a very serious issue. Children with separation anxiety refuse to be separated from their caregivers and parents. They will cling to them, refuse to leave them at social events, refuse to let go at the daycare. They are troubled by thoughts of being separated forever or losing the loved one.
Social Anxiety manifests itself in situations where the child needs to interact with people whom they do not interact with regularly. A family gathering once a month can set off the anxiety as much as a wedding with many strangers. They are not happy to interact with many people at the same time. They may carry a security item like a toy or a blanket.
Crying on seeing a bug, or an earthworm, fear of thunderstorms or pressure cooker sounds, etc. are phobias which can be a manifestation of anxiety.
How can you help your child manage anxiety?
With a little help and reassurance, it is not difficult to help a child overcome these fears and anxiety.
Check ahead with anxiety-provoking situations: There is a family gathering coming up? Talk to your child about Sarita aunty, Bittu chacha, and Shobhit uncle before the event. Tell them what is coming up, and it will be of help.
Allow expression: If it helps them to talk, let them do so, if crying is helping, it may be good to let them pour it out. When the emotion is spent somewhat it may be a better time to explain and reason rather than while it peaks.
Provide a safe space: to express anxiety. A car is not a safe space to attend to a tantrum. Make sure they have a safe space to cry, talk, or be angry.
Be present and available: Listen, look, pay attention. Let the child know that you are present with them in all ways. It can be about eye contact or touch but ensure they know that they have your attention. It’s crucial.
Personalize and externalize: says one of the posts from Harvard Health. Get your child to give the anxiety a name. Help your child draw pictures of anxiety and visualize it. Then, you can help your child label and distance themselves from anxiety. Help your child learn to be the boss of it.
Model confidence: Children are like sponges that soak up what they see or feel around them. Try to temper or tone down your own anxieties.
Tools for help: A security blanket may not be your favorite accessory, and a ragged bunny or stained book might be out of place at a wedding, but if it helps the child, it’s ok to have it. You can read a book or play with them with a favorite toy for a bit if that helps. The idea is to let them have such tools while you help them work on it in other ways.
Exposure: This ties in well with checking ahead. Try and expose the child to situations in small doses if they feel overwhelmed. Leave them for short durations, stay in sight at social gatherings initially, try smaller crowds first, etc.
Like anything else in life, there are no instant solutions, and anxiety needs to be addressed gradually for building up self-confidence. There are always books and experts that you can refer to if you wish. Let us see more of those positive emojis, emoticons, and emotions. Do not let anxiety overtake you. Happy parenting!!