As a parent you will know your child better than anyone else. So when you think there is something up, you are probably right. Perhaps your child is withdrawn, worrying more than usual. Perhaps you feel they worry a lot more than other children their age, or that they become anxious over things which should be deemed small and manageable. All children go through a phase of tantrums, frustrations and even withdrawing, but if things don’t improve as the child gets older, then maybe there is an issue, maybe you have cause for concern.
Symptoms of Anxiety in children
- A child who does not sleep, is having nightmares, or bad dreams
- Children who refuse to eat or goes off their food
- Displaying anger or frustrations, out of control outbursts
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Constantly running to the toilet
- Clingy, crying, or being fidgety and unable to settle/relax.
- Complains of feeling ill, tummy ache
- Sleep walking
- Sudden onset of nail biting, chewing fingers/skin around fingers
- Evidence of suspected cutting or harming
Depending on the age of your child they may worry about different things and also the anxiety will cause different behaviours. Younger children tend to display separation anxiety, but they can have other fears, such as being afraid of the dark, monsters, starting school. Whereas the older child social anxiety is more common, fears about being accepted and issues around school and college life. For those transitioning into adulthood there comes a new set of anxieties about work and choosing a career. Now, I hear you say, didn’t we all have to go through that, and yes you are right we did; but for some children and young people where perhaps resilience is low, this can cause major problems. Ultimately the way to help is to talk to your children, but there comes a time if this is not working, you might need to broach the subject of counselling or external support so your child can get the help they need to be able to overcome these anxieties.
Helping the anxious child
Above all talk and LISTEN to your child. Never tell them that what they are worrying about is nothing, that they are fussing or being silly. Remember not to speak to others about your child either as this may be overheard and trust will be lost. To this child the anxiety is a serious issue, and if it is not handled carefully it could result in matters getting much worse. So take your child seriously no matter what they are anxious about.
After time if things don’t appear to be improving, you should seek professional help, armchair psychology isn’t the best option, so a useful place to begin is the GP. For an older child who is happy to speak with their GP alone, that is fine; for a younger child if they are comfortable speaking alone, consent can be given for this also; but be sure the child is happy to do this, they should never be forced to speak privately if they don’t want to do so.
The important thing to remember is that in the event you are asked to sit in on a session; allow your child to share their own feelings in their own words. Don’t be tempted to share what you think they are experiencing or what you think the cause might be. The child needs to be allowed to determine this cause on their own terms.
At times it might be necessary for a child to be referred to a Counsellor or therapist to help them deal with these worries and concerns. This is fine, it doesn’t mean there is something wrong, that they are different, it just means they need a little help, like people often do while teasing out the thoughts they are dealing with, and rationalising them.
Concerns about discussing Counselling
There has historically been a stigma attached to mental health, but thankfully this is changing and lately we see acceptance that therapy is something which most of us will experience at some stage in our lives, and it does help. It is vital that you discussed this with your child, share examples or experiences if you have any. This is a positive intervention, so make sure any discussions around Counselling are shared in that way – positively! The last thing any anxious child needs is to worry about being different, or to feel bad about themselves in any way.
Younger children may be afraid, they might be shy of meeting a new person alone, so when they are meeting a Counsellor for the first time, sit in on a session or two until the child and Counsellor have built a bond. But remember don’t interfere… allow the session to flow naturally, or not as the case might be; don’t scold a child who doesn’t speak or share for the first few sessions, that is fine also.. it is a process.
Teenagers may well retreat, shut down or not want to see a Counsellor. So it is important to consider ways to discuss this in a positive way, explain calmly how it can help, but do allow them to come to this frame of mind in their own time, it is best not to try and force them to attend Counselling.
Things to consider
- Remember that as a parent you have a role to play, that the problem or issue affects everyone and not just the child. Remain non judgemental, empathise with your child, listen. It is always best not to surmise or make assumptions about what is happening or why, so stick to discussing what is happening and how it makes everyone feel. Remember the child/teenager is not the problem, everyone is in this together and is working through this together.
- For a younger child make a comparison to visiting the GP to explain what a Counsellor is. Explain that they don’t get angry, they won’t make you feel bad, judge, you cannot be wrong your feelings and what you are feeling are real. The Counsellor like the GP will listen, it is private, and they will help you feel better.
- Never bring up Counselling as a solution during an episode or fight, or when a child is anxious or upset.
- Find a Counsellor who specialises with children and their needs.
- Be supportive if your child wants to share afterwards, but respect their privacy if they don’t.
- Trust the Counsellor! Don’t interfere, and try to take and use any advice they give, they are not judging you or your child. They are there to help.