Anxiety in children is normal, just as it is in adults. Our bodies and minds are constantly stimulated, and just like an adult facing a massive workload, children can become overwhelmed by the world and its ways. Fairly so, considering they haven’t had the chance to experience the ups and downs of life just yet.
In some cases, there is a need to address more serious conditions such as General Anxiety Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism, however in most cases, it's simply a matter of teaching kids how to manage their own anxiety. This can be successfully accomplished through teaching social emotional skills.
So, what are the main factors that cause stress amongst children?
We've outlined the most common stress factors in terms of age group below:
Babies become stressed about loud noises, unfamiliar places, incommunicable discomfort, heights, strangers and parental separation.
Pre-schoolers face separation anxiety from their parents, fear of the darkness, as well as frustration due to the inability to communicate, at a time when they are starting to develop their social skills.
Primary-aged children can develop social anxiety early on. Disappointment, the fear of getting in trouble and physical threats are also common stress factors for this age group.
Teenagers arguably experience the highest level of anxiety, considering the multiple changes in their lives; including puberty, identity, sexuality, school workload and the ever-daunting prospect of their futures.
Our experts top 6 tips on how to reduce anxiety in children:
Although it may not be the end of the world to you, a child might feel differently when ill-equipped or lacking sufficient experience to cope with a stressful scenario. Dismissing their anxieties can be extremely harmful, as it may cause a sense of shame, and discourage them from sharing these feelings with you in the future. We agree with Silverman and Kurtines (1996) that an absence of early intervention of anxiety is a big price to pay. Our top tip to you is to ensure your child is aware of your support, and to make sure they have a clear plan to resolve similar instances in the future.
STRIVE TO BE A GOOD ROLE MODEL
Educators and parents tend to avoid allowing kids to see them in an unhappy or stressed state out of fear that it will project those negative feelings upon them, however when that same child starts to develop similar emotions throughout their development, they will never have seen an example of helpful coping mechanisms. This can lead to a belief that they are unable to be resilient. To avoid this happening, make it known to your children or students when and how you deal with anxiety, not only so that they can learn from your wisdom, but also to encourage mutual consideration amongst emotional sensitivity.
ENCOURAGE THEM TO GET OUT OF THEIR COMFORT ZONE
Discomfort is an inevitable part of life. One of the best things you can do to prepare your child for the real world is to encourage them to try new things, even if they induce slight anxiety. Of course, we are not saying to force them into traumatic situations, but rather a chance for them to learn something unfamiliar to them. Words of encouragement can go a long way in a new, and possibly scary environment. This teaches kids to persevere and build their own stress management skills.
Start with the little stuff. Sometimes a child can only see the enormous black cloud forming above them, but with your help, they can see the tiny drops of water that cloud is made up of. Rather than tackling the whole cloud, encourage the child to tackle each droplet at a time. Each time a small problem is resolved, the overwhelming feeling of anxiety gets increasingly smaller. Try engaging them with their favourite game, physical movement (i.e. a fundamental movement class or a non-competitive sport) or some reading for calm stimulation. Discovering these coping mechanisms will help with anxiety in teen and adult years.
PRAISE THE CHILD
Everyone needs positive reinforcement, even adults. Positive reinforcement results in changes in brain chemistry, which can affect long-term behaviours positively. By allowing a child to see that overcoming fear and anxiety is a success and that is deserves celebration, it will build their skills in the management of anxiety in future. By offering encouragement, you will positively be shaping their future in the right direction.
TRY TO AVOID USING LABELS
Anxiety can be difficult and debilitating, but labelling a child according to any given condition can be dangerous. It can lead to your child believing that they are their condition, which can inhibit or slow their recovery. Your child is "overcoming anxiety", "managing anxiety" or, in serious cases, "living with anxiety" (as opposed to suffering, which has negative connotations). Your child should not be anchored by something they didn’t ask for but is something they can learn skills to cope with and sometimes avoid.