All children feel worried sometimes, and this is a normal part of growing up. At certain points, such as on their first day of school or before a test, children may become more worried, but will soon be able to calm down and feel better.
Anxiety can become a problem when a young person feels stuck in it, or when it feels like an overwhelming, distressing or unmanageable experience. If this kind of worrying goes on for a long time, it can leave a child feeling exhausted and isolated, and limit the things they feel able to do.
If your child is struggling with anxiety, there are things you can do to help them-
- When your child is in the middle of a very anxious moment, they may feel frightened, agitated or worried about having a panic attack. The important thing to do in the moment is to help them calm down and feel safe. These strategies can help.
- Breathe slowly and deeply together. You can count slowly to five as you breathe in, and then five as you breathe out.
- Sit with them and offer calm physical reassurance. Feeling you nearby, or holding your hand or having a cuddle if it’s possible, can be soothing.
- Reassure them that the anxiety will pass and that they will be okay. It can be helpful to describe it as a wave that they can ride or surf until it peaks, breaks and gets smaller.
- Ask them to think of a safe and relaxing place or person in their mind. If you haven’t tried this before, agree with them when they’re feeling calm what this place or person is. Sometimes holding a memento of a relaxing place, like a seashell or pebble, can help.
- Try using all five senses together. Connecting with what they can see, touch, hear, smell and taste can bring them closer to the present moment and reduce the intensity of their anxiety.
- Encourage them to do something that helps them to feel calmer. When they are feeling calm, work with them to list things that help them to calm. Write those, draw those or make a special box containing 'trigger items' which remind them of their strategies (a photo of a certain place in your home or an object)
- In a calmer moment, talk with your child about their anxiety. Ask them what it feels like in their mind and body, and what things make them feel that way. Try to increase their awareness of when their anxiety is building so they can begin to use calming strategies earlier and ask for help.
- Think together about whether there’s anything in particular that’s making them feel anxious. Are there changes that could be made at home or school that would make things easier? If your child is worrying about things that are outside of their control, it might help to name together who is responsible for managing the problem – for example, you might say, “worrying about money is the parents’ job”.
- Try activities that help them to relax, such as mindfulness, yoga or meditation.
- Help them do the things we know are important for our mental health. Encourage your child to make sure they include regular physical exercise, try to sleep well, eat healthily, drink water and spend quality time with loved ones and friends (where possible!)
- Talk to us if you’re worried about your child’s mental health and things aren’t getting better. A member of SLT, our FSW or your child's class teacher can help. Things will get better - ask for help.