It has been a challenging few years for many of us with lots of unforeseen events we would not have thought would ever happen.  So it is understandable that there has been a rise in children and adults feeling anxious. Anxiety is a normal and natural response that occurs when an individual perceives a threat, danger or negative outcome or event. Essentially our brain is trying to keep the body safe.

It is common and normal for children to feel anxious or fearful about a variety of different things during their development. In most cases, these fears are transitory and do not significantly interfere with a child’s academic, social or family life so anxiety only becomes problematic when it impedes daily functioning.

What Causes Anxiety?

There’s not one obvious cause of anxiety. Usually, anxiety is caused by a mixture of things related to your circumstances, and not one particular cause.  These may include;

  • Current life situation
  • Experiences
  • Genetics
  • Learned behaviour
  • Temperament 
  • Gender (girls a 2x more likely to experience anxiety
  • Attachment (insecure)
  • Parent modelling• 

What is Normal?

  • Toddler to Middle Childhood: fear of animals/insects, the dark, separation from parents, supernatural beings such as monsters, thunder and lightning, sleeping alone, ‘bad’ people 
  • Middle Childhood to Late Childhood: supernatural beings, the dark, bodily injury, heights, getting lost or trapped, burglars, doctors/dentists, death and dying 
  • Late Childhood to Early Adolescence: fears revolve around social or evaluative situations, e.g. being teased or rejected by peers, being embarrassed, dating, giving oral reports, taking tests, and fear of death or physical injury. 

Some ideas to help manage anxiety:

  • Emotional coaching
    • Name it to Tame it! It is important children can recognise how they are feeling – name it.  You look happy today.  You are enjoying that.  Can I help you with that you look frustrated?
  • Reassure but don’t Over Reassure
    • Children will worry more if they think you are worried too.  If you over reassure you send the message to your child that there is something to worry about. If kids know that you are worried about their worries they will get more worried.
  • Avoiding Avoidance
    • Encourage
  • Break the task down – to make it achievable
  • Praise when your child has been brave
  • Model Calm
    • When you are stressed/anxious name the way you are feeling and let your child see you manage it, e.g. breathing through it, listening to calming music/sounds. Going for a walk etc.
  • Mindfulness Ideas
  • ICT
    • Have a net nanny.  What has been seen, cannot be unseen.
    • Devices/phones in living areas – not bedrooms
    • Have a spot for devices/phones to be placed overnight (not in bedrooms)
  • Adult Worries are Not Kids’ Worries
    • Kids don’t need to know about your worries e.g. the size of the power bill, rent, the dairy payout.
    • Take care when talking about these things – make sure you are not in earshot.  You may not think your kids are listening – but they will be.  This may contribute to their worries.
    • Avoid the news – When children see an event on TV and it is repeated they do not know that it is the same incident, they may think it is happening again and again.

Additional readings and supportive information

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