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It will be all right: Helping your child deal with anxiety

18.04.2019 Author: psiholog pavel horoshutin

“I have a very anxious kid. My son is eight, he is already in the second grade but is still very shy and afraid of other people. If a teacher reprimands him even slightly, he becomes very upset, cries the whole evening and doesn’t want to go to school. I have to take him to class and console him. He is so afraid that he hides behind me, blushes and may start crying when meeting new people, even his peers. Sometimes he has nightmares in the middle of the night and cannot sleep afterwards until morning. He does well in school, but he takes a lot of time to complete a task, afraid to make a mistake. He is very afraid to answer during class, even if he knows the material. He is good at remembering and reciting poems, but it makes no sense to send him to a contest. We have tried once, and he almost threw a tantrum. I have no idea how to make my child less anxious. I do my best to protect him from strong emotional impacts, we rarely go to new places, but I won’t be able to protect him like that his whole life.”

– Anastasia, mother of 8 year old Vanya

There is a stereotype in our society that anxiety is a “perk” of adulthood. Children, according to this stereotype, have nothing to worry about, they are pampered, provided for and protected by their parents. However, increased anxiety levels might stem from reasons other than external ones. A lot depends on a persons inner state, and that is not age-related: even babies and teenagers can get anxious. For children it can be specifically hard, because they don’t know yet how to handle stress, their own fears and worries, so they seek help from their parents. Let’s talk about causes of anxiety and learn some pieces of advice to help children with it, how to teach them react to difficult situations and help them develop coping skills, essential for their future life.

Contents:

  1. Definition of high anxiety
  2. Test: your child’s anxiety level
  3. Signs of high anxiety
  4. Causes of high anxiety in children
  5. What to do with your child’s high anxiety
  6. Exercises to reduce anxiety level in children
  7. Solution: 7Spsy behavior modification technique

Definition of high anxiety

Anxiety is a high disposition to worries and reservations. A person with this problem is often worried about relatively insignificant issues, feels constant threat and ungrounded fear. Any event will be seen as dangerous, challenging and stressful.

Like fear, anxiety can be beneficial, as it is originally a protective means of our psyche. Occasional anxiety helps us rise to the task, escape danger and solve the problem. However, if anxiety follows us in any life circumstances, even clearly favorable, then it has become a fixed personal trait and a behavior pattern.

This is true both for children and adults. However, children display anxiety differently. A child with this disorder has trouble establishing connections with others, they are constantly depressed and cautious, they see the world as a scary and dangerous place. Such children develop low self-esteem and grim future outlook. Low stress tolerance can be a consequence of high anxiety in children, making them unable to handle life situations, study successfully and explore the world around them.

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Test: your child’s anxiety level

Parents often have trouble figuring out if their child’s anxiety level has become abnormal. Here is a short questionnaire “Child’s anxiety level” based on observations to help you. [1] Read the statements and mark the ones you agree with.

  1. My child cannot work on one task for a long period of time without getting tired.
  2. My child finds it hard to focus on anything.
  3. Any task stresses my child.
  4. My child is very tense and uptight when working on a task.
  5. My child is very shy.
  6. My child often speaks about stressful situations.
  7. My child often blushes in an unfamiliar surroundings.
  8. My child often has nightmares.
  9. My child’s hands are often cold and wet.
  10. My child often has bowel disorders.
  11. My child sweats a lot when worried.
  12. My child has poor appetite.
  13. My child sleeps irregularly and has trouble falling asleep.
  14. My child is very timid and gets easily scared.
  15. My child is usually restless and gets upset easily.
  16. My child often cannot hold back tears.
  17. My child handles waiting poorly.
  18. My child is not eager to take a new task.
  19. My child lacks self-confidence.
  20. My child is afraid of hardships.

If you have marked more than 15 statements, your child is likely to have an anxiety disorder. If you have marked more than 7, your child is at risk of developing one. We recommend you to pay attention to this problem and work on preventing and treating high anxiety.

Signs of high anxiety

increased anxiety in a child

“I doubt there is anything that doesn’t make her worried. She is afraid of almost everything: darkness, thunder, elevators, loud noises. She is already nine and yet cannot sleep alone! I cannot even start to comprehend it. When I was her age, I was very brave, ran around playing with boys and told everyone that I am already a big girl. She, on the other hand, is a tender flower. She is so afraid of people, of new ones and even of the ones she knows. All teachers say that she is a smart girl, just so shy that she cannot even answer during the lesson, stays silent and can even start crying. At home she continues to cry and say that she is the worst, she is good for nothing, that she is stupid. She doesn’t want to do anything, no sports, no music, no drawing. She is afraid to do bad in them. However, she likes to read and she helps me around the house, so I’m fairly certain she is not lazy. I feel so sorry for her, I talk to her and try to console her, I never reprimand her, but nothing changes.”

Viktoria, mother of 9 year old Sasha

Children with high anxiety regularly display the following symptoms:

  • self-doubt, low self-esteem;
  • fear of new people and new tasks;
  • denial to perform difficult tasks;
  • age-inappropriate fears, for example, a child above 7 years old being afraid of school, going out, being at home alone, falling asleep alone;
  • sleep disorders and nightmares;
  • low appetite;
  • “bad habits”: biting nails, twisting and pulling hair etc.;
  • tearfulness and vulnerability;
  • restraint in new surroundings;
  • fits of anger and irritation;
  • multiple phobias.

Anxiety attacks can be also accompanied by physical signs: increased heart rate, shallow breathing, dry mouth, digestive disorders and other signs unique to a child. [2]

Causes of high anxiety in children

child's anxiety

Parents play a big “role” in developing high anxiety. There are, of course, children who are especially susceptible to high anxiety. Those are creative, highly sensitive and melancholic children. However, if the parents have found a proper approach to upbringing, their child’s anxiety can be episodic, never becoming severe. Let’s look at the most common causes of anxiety in children.

   1. Troubled atmosphere at home

Children always copy their parent’s behavior patterns. If the parents always feel worried by something, their anxiety can be adopted by their children. A child learns that the world is dangerous and that they should feel uneasy about various things in life. Such child becomes thin-skinned, their fears spread to various life spheres. Even if the parents hide their own fears, the children can sense their tension. In such environment a child can develop chronic stress.

    2. Psychological trauma

Any situation that caused severe stress can lead to higher anxiety level in a child. That can be parent’s divorce, loss of a loved one, serious conflicts with teachers or peers, disease. All such events may inflict a serious trauma. If the parents or a psychologist did not help the child cope with it, a child will be stuck with fears and anxiety. Even public shaming or failure at an important event can become the source of trauma, especially if the child is sensitive and emotional.

    3. Authoritative parenting

If the parents place high demands on their children, reprimand them for any mistakes, forbid them to express emotions and punish often, the children develop constant anxiety. In such situation children are made to fight for love and acceptance, suffer from constant criticism, aim to appease their parents by any means and desperately need their favor. It becomes especially hard if parents’ demands and reactions are inconsistent and unpredictable. Severe punishment and intimidation makes the situation even worse. As the result, children develop low self-esteem, self-doubt, become wary of the whole world, feel constant fear and high anxiety. [3]

What to do with your child’s high anxiety

anxious child recommendations

If your child has high anxiety level, you must start treating it as soon as possible, or it will become a personality trait for life. Children will have a much harder time fixing them after they grow up. Here are a couple of methods to help your child overcome anxiety and improve their stress tolerance. You can use the same advice to prevent anxiety disorder if your child is at risk of developing one.

Learn to control your own anxiety

Let us say it once again: children are mostly affected by their parents’ behavior. In order to help anxious children you have to defeat your own anxiety. Once children see that the grown-ups are calm, trust the world and are eager to face it, the children themselves become braver and calmer naturally.

Revise your parenting methods

Before you start treating your child’s anxiety, take a moment to think: aren’t you asking too much of them? Reducing their load might be a good idea. For example, let them drop an activity (extracurricular, of course) that they don’t like. Never reprimand your children for failure and mistakes, or they will develop fear for any new activities. Help your child handle a difficult situation and show them that they can trust you. Remember: if a child sees you as a source of danger and punishment, they will always be afraid and lonely.

Teach your children to handle difficult situations

Resist your urge to help a child immediately if they don’t ask you to do so, and do not try to protect them from any hardships. Let them see that you are by their side and are eager to help when needed, but you believe in their ability to handle everything themselves. This way, a child will develop faith in their own abilities and will not resign in front of a smallest obstacle. Do not criticize a child for their failures. Instead, you should praise their bravery and independence and offer them your help in figuring out the ways to fix their mistake. This will help your child develop responsibility and stress tolerance.

Getting a small pet might be a good idea, even a goldfish, a turtle or some snails. Make your child responsible for some aspects of care about the pet. A child will feel big and strong, compared to a pet, which will boost their sense of self-confidence and self-significance.

Love your children as they are

You shouldn’t just accept your children’s strengths, but also the aspects that you consider to be weaknesses. Those aspects may simply be their personality traits that make your children unique. Never compare your child to other people, praise your child more often and tell them you love them regardless a situation. Safe and comfortable environment at home, as well as good relationship with parents, are known for reducing stress levels and boosting their stress tolerance.

Exercises to reduce anxiety level in children

Here are some recommendations of a French teacher Michele Borba to help anxious children. These are simple exercises designed to reduce stress in children. You can use them all together or only pick the ones you like. These exercises turn the fight with anxiety into a game, which makes it more effective. [2]

  1. Inner discourse. Together with your child, find a certain phrase that will boost their self-confidence and teach them to say it in a stressful situation. For example: “I can do this”, “I will make it”, “No need to worry”.
  2. Elevator breathing. Offer your child to close their eyes, take three deep breaths and then imagine how they go down from the tenth to the ground floor in an elevator. Once the elevator reaches its destination, anxiety will be gone. You can also use other breathing techniques to fight anxiety.
  3. Melting the stress. Ask your child to point out the place with the most tension. Usually, it is a neck, shoulders or jaws. Tell them to draw this place as tight as possible and then abruptly relax. They will feel tension leave their body.
  4. Visualizing a safe place. When a child feels anxious, they may try to imagine a safe and comfortable place. This has two effects: first, a child moves to a safe surrounding in their mind, and second, they get distracted from uneasy thoughts.

Solution: 7Spsy behavior modification technique

You might have already noticed high anxiety in your child and are already thinking about getting rid of it. This will require you to work on your child’s stress tolerance. Getting rid of the symptoms will not be enough, you need to change their deep behavior patterns. 7Spsy behavior modification technique can help you with that. It is a registered method of behavioral psychology, which helps to reveal mindsets that lead to high anxiety, and change them to positive ones.

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The course is taken remotely and lasts from 2 to 6 weeks. Throughout the whole course your child will be accompanied by a qualified psychologist. They will support your child in case of any trouble on the way to developing stress tolerance. By working on our 7Spsy method, your child will stop worrying about small things and will learn to cope with stress on their own.

References:

  1. Metodika Lavrenteva G. P., Titarenko T. M., «Uroven trevozhnosti rebyonka» http://www.eti-deti.ru/det-test/75.html
  2. Igor Savchenko, «Trevozhnyj rebenok. V kakoj pomoshchi on nuzhdaetsya» (https://eduface.ru/consultation/psiholog/trevozhnyj_rebenok_v_kakoj_pomowi_on_nuzhdaetsya)
  3. Marina Osipenko, «Trevozhnyj rebyonok — chto delat?» (https://medaboutme.ru/mat-i-ditya/publikacii/stati/psikhologiya_detey/trevozhnyy_rebenok_chto_delat/)