Anxiety in children
Anxiety is common in all children including those of primary school age (5-12) and is a normal part of human development and growth. Many parents may be concerned about the signs and symptoms of anxiety, however, it’s important to acknowledge anxiety in children as a natural emotion and like all emotions, one that can be managed over time.
How long does anxiety in children last?
In many cases, childhood anxiety is short-lived and may arise as a part of changes in the environment, developmental expectations, or life situations. For example, in the lead-up to starting primary school, many kids will be anxious and may continue to deal with anxiety well into their first year as they adjust to the new environment; people; the increased cognitive, social, and emotional demands; and lifestyle. This is especially normal for kids that had not attended preschool as this may be the first time they are away from parents/caregivers for a significant part of the day.
Why does anxiety in children occur?
Anxiety in children usually arises from fear of the unknown and/or of certain situations or aspects of their life. For example, many children display anxiety around social situations, new environments, schoolwork, or sporting activities. The mere thought of being left at school may be enough to provoke anxiety in your young one. However, the good news is that in the main, anxiety is completely manageable for primary school kids, especially when the parents understand the reasons behind the worries and can help address them. Some children may experience anxiety on a more intense level than others and/or it is not able to be managed, which can impact their ability to enjoy life.
Some signs that your child is anxious are:
- Avoiding certain situations repetitively
- Seeking reassurance constantly
- Excessive worry, restlessness, and irritability
- Physical symptoms such as stomach aches, headaches
- Trouble sleeping at night
There are many ways you can help your child manage and resolve anxiety:
- Explain that anxiety is just another emotion: anxiety can be a strange and uncomfortable emotion to deal with, especially when it is new to a child. When dealing with anxiety for the first time, children may have the urge to supress or avoid it, or they may feel even more fearful of the emotion, causing symptoms to worsen. First and foremost, it’s important that you explain to your child that anxiety is a normal emotion that we all experience. You can even give an example of when you were anxious as a child and how you experience and manage anxiety as an adult.
- Hear them out: You can help support your child through anxiety by firstly acknowledging and listening to their worries. Dismissing or ignoring your child’s fears can often just make them feel more alone in their anxiety.
- Encourage them to face their fear and support them in the process: Once you have acknowledged and listened to the worry, you can gently encourage them to do the things they are anxious about. Exposure to the situation/cause (so long as it is safe) is a key element in the healing process of anxiety. Be sure to support them throughout the process and experience and reassure them that they can overcome whatever it is they are anxious about.
- Praise: Once your child has faced the anxious situation/thing, it is important to praise them for doing so. This will help them to be more confident to face their fears in future. Furthermore, this will allow them to understand that anxiety is a normal part of life. You can also use this experience the next time your child feels anxious about something, to remind them that they can do it.
How to help a child with anxiety
If you are concerned about your child’s anxiety and need assistance in this area, a psychologist can help. Karen Potter specialises in psychology for children. She can help both parents and child manage the anxiety by providing tools and techniques that make the process easier. Karen will be able to answer any questions you have about your child’s anxiety. She will also provide a safe environment for you and your child to start the healing process.
The important thing to remember is that anxiety is just another emotion. So, the goal is not to eliminate anxiety but to manage it, just as we do as adults. Anxiety is a normal human emotion and just like other emotions, it can be managed effectively over time.