Compared to adult life, your child’s world may seem to be free of stress; after all, a playground disagreement seems little to worry about compared to ensuring the mortgage is paid. However, growing up is not easy. For many children, the mental and emotional demands of school life, homework, exams, friendships, family relations, body image and social media prove exhausting.
There is growing awareness of the damage that these sources of stress are causing to children’s mental health. Anxiety is on the rise amongst even the very young, with teachers reporting symptoms of anxiety in pupils aged as young as four. Fortunately, there are many effective methods for managing anxiety in children. Our article this month outlines signs that may indicate that your child is suffering with anxiety and offers tips and techniques to help them to cope with their feelings.
Is my child suffering from anxiety?
It can be difficult to recognise anxiety in children. A child may find it hard to identify his or her feelings as fear or worry or they may struggle to express what they are experiencing. Instead, anxiety can manifest as seemingly irrational behaviours, such as unexplained reluctance to attend school or unprovoked tantrums.
It is important to look for patterns in these behaviours. For example, does your child often complain of feeling too unwell to go to school on certain days of the week? Check their timetable and see if these days have anything in common, such as a maths lesson. It could be that your child is trying to avoid an experience they find stressful. Are your child’s ‘meltdowns’ triggered by imperfect or undone homework? Perhaps your child is afraid of making a mistake, upsetting their teacher or failing to meet the high standards they have set for themselves.
Unsurprisingly, anxiety can severely impact a child’s progress at school. If your child seems to be falling behind in a subject, consider whether it could be a confidence issue rather than a lack of ability. Anxiety around a subject can quickly compound – worrying in class leads your child to become distracted and miss vital learning in school, making it harder for them to complete their homework, detracting from their confidence further and making them more likely to lose focus in class or even avoid it entirely if they can.
How can I help my child to manage anxiety?
If you think that your child may be suffering with anxiety, the first step is to discuss their worries with them. Helping your child to find the language to express their anxiety can help them to understand the emotion and know how to ask for help when they need it. Encourage them to explain how they are feeling and ask if there is anything in particular that is causing them to feel worried. Older children may find it helpful to have you explain to them what anxiety is and what physical effects it can have. Most importantly, reassure your child that you understand and that you are there for them.
It is important to avoid accidentally encouraging any unhelpful responses your child has to anxiety. Whilst your child’s instinct will be to avoid experiences they find anxiety-provoking, in fact he or she needs to learn how to tolerate and lower their anxiety. By avoiding stressful experiences, your child will also miss out on opportunities to learn how to cope with their feelings. This does not mean that you should force your child to do something they do not want to do. Instead, help them to find practical ways of managing in uncomfortable situations, like taking three deep breaths when they feel butterflies in their stomach or challenging any negative thoughts that pop into their minds.
If you feel that your child’s performance at school may be being affected by anxiety, discuss your concerns with their teacher. Creating an environment at home or at school where your child feels comfortable making mistakes can help your child to overcome any fears of imperfection that may be blocking progress. Reward your child for effort, rather than outcome, and reassure them that practice will lead to improvement, even if it takes time.
Phew! Maybe paying the mortgage is not so stressful after all…!
Need a little help? Flying Start Tuition is an award-winning tuition centre offering classes for children from year one through to GCSEs, including their popular Eleven Plus programmes. Classes run throughout the year at their main centre in Chesham and at their five satellite centres in Amersham, Aylesbury, Berkhamsted, Jordans Village and Little Chalfont.
Flying Start are Ofsted registered and accept Childcare Vouchers and Tax-Free Childcare. Bursaries are also available – please ask for details.
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