Most people feel anxious when they have to do something new for the first time, like starting a new job, for children it may be the first day at a new school. But sometimes, anxiety can be so great that it ultimately interferes with the activity at hand and leads to avoidance. Like your child may deeply experience anxiety that they'll refuse to go to school.
It can be highly stressful for a parent. Often parents ask what they can do at home to support their child with anxiety. I often tell them that the first thing they can do is recognise that their child's anxiety is a genuine response to fear. When parents misread anxiety as their child being difficult or angry, it can cause it to escalate. Then I talk about what is anxiety and what their child might be experiencing. Your child is not trying to worry. They are trying to cope with their body's need to deal with fear. Their body doesn't know the difference between facing a real threat versus the fear of being laughed at if they answer a question incorrectly in their classroom. Your child's body is responding the same way to these two very different scenarios.
When your child is anxious, you may notice their palms sweating. They may shift about, avoid eye contact, refuse to eat, are easily irritable, and be out of control during outbursts, feeling tense, or often using the toilet. In younger children, you may notice increased clinginess.
We've put together five techniques you can use with your child to help them manage their anxiety.
1. Breathing Techniques – Where you can, do this simple breathing technique; in and out for four counts. Repeat 2 – 3 times with your child. Make a habit of practising this technique when your child is with you randomly throughout the day. When you spot them acting anxiously, practice this technique together. Practising this makes it more likely that they will use it when they are on their own experiencing an anxiety attack.
2. Relaxation Techniques – Asking your child if they need a hug or a moment alone when they're overwhelmed with anxiety can help make a difference. Every child has a different way of responding to stress and might feel differently every single time. They must know these relaxation techniques to mitigate the anxiety before it escalates.
3. Regulating Emotions – One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to create a safe bridge of communication between you and your child, where they can open up to you and be freely allowed to express themselves. It helps them "talk" through what they may be feeling. Read more about how you can teach your child to regulate their emotions in our blog here.
4. Planning – An anxiety attack can happen at any time. Put in place a safe word with your child. They can use this safe word with you when they're struggling and need to remove themselves from an activity.
5. Positive Feedback – Be specific with your praises when your child manages an anxiety attack. It lets them know that you've noticed their effort towards managing their attack and will help them feel good about themselves.
If you feel your child is experiencing high anxiety levels, it is always best to speak to a Paediatrician. Play therapy is highly beneficial towards managing anxiety in children.
If you would like to speak to a qualified Play therapist to learn how your child could benefit from play therapy, click here to schedule a complimentary consultation today.