Anxiety is something that many of us have faced throughout our adult lives, but when it is our children who are facing anxiety that is a whole other matter.
First of all, I want to acknowledge what you are going through. It can be really hard as a parent when you find that your little person is struggling with such big emotions. Until our son started to struggle with anxiety around age three, I didn’t know anything about childhood anxiety. In fact, I’d not really even realised it was such a massive issue in our country or that so many of our tamariki struggle with this. Also remember that the fact that your child is struggling with anxiety is NOT your fault. You are not a bad parent because of your child’s anxiety. Anxiety can be triggered by lot of different things. For our son, changes in his circumstances can trigger his anxiety, and his anxiety first started not long after he started preschool.
When you suspect your child has anxiety it can be really hard knowing what to do. There are an overwhelming number of different services out there, and it can be hard knowing who to turn to. Our first port of call was a visit to our G.P. to try and understand what was going on.
ONE: A visit to the G.P.
As a fellow parent of an anxious child, my first tip for parents who think their child might be struggling with anxiety is to visit the G.P. When our son first started to show symptoms of anxiety I didn’t even know that they were symptoms of anxiety! His struggles manifested themselves in hair pulling and sore tummies, neither of which I had realised could have shown that I had an anxious child.
A visit to the G.P. helped us to understand that the symptoms he was showing were signs he could be anxious. The G.P. was then able to give us some advice on specialist that we could go to see to try and understand more about what we should do to support our son with his anxiety.
TWO: Talk to a children’s therapist
One of the best things we have done to help us understand how to support our son better was to work with a child therapist. Your G.P. can most likely provide you with a referral to someone in your area who can help you.
A therapist can work with you and your child to try and better understand what is going on. They can also then provide you with advice and strategies for how you can help your child.
We have found the therapy to be very helpful for both us as parents, and for our son. Having a therapist who knew the right questions to ask him helped him to express concerns that he had that he had never been able to put into words for us. Once we knew some of the things that were worrying him we were able to put some measures in place to support him better.
THREE: Talk to your child about their feelings
Having open lines of communication between parent and child are really helpful. Sometimes an anxious child will hold in big feelings, and not say anything about them which can really make things so much worse. We have often had really BIG tantrums that we didn’t realised were triggered by something our son was worried about.
I often find it quite hard to get out what is going on, so it can take a bit of pressing the issue. Here’s an example of something that happened recently…
Xavier didn’t want to go to school. There was no real reason. He wasn’t sick, we didn’t hear of any issues at schools, or upcoming sports events (those can really cause challenges) so there was no clear reason why he shouldn’t go. Yet, getting out of the house this particular morning was proving very challenging. It wasn’t until part way to school that I discovered what the issue was. Xavier had to give a presentation at school that day and he was scared about standing up in front of the class (he was also scared that if his speech was good he would have to present it in front of assembly). Situations like this can be quite distressing for him (too many people), and I didn’t know that was happening so we hadn’t been able to talk about what to do to cope in this situation.
The worries could be easily solved once I knew what was going on. A quick chat to the teacher meant that Xavier was able to do his presentation at morning tea rather than having to stand in front of class. Xavier was also reassured to find that this was only ever going to be a class talk, not one that would go in front of the whole school.
FOUR: Talk to your child’s school / teacher
This can be helpful in a number of ways. Firstly, it is good to get insight into what is going on at school and whether there is anything happening at school that could be causing anxiety for your child. Secondly, if your child’s teacher knows that they struggle with anxiety (particularly if it is around certain activities) they can help support your child to cope better at school. They can also then report back to you if there is anything going on that they might not have otherwise noticed.