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  • Writer's pictureKaren Smith

Supporting Children with Anxiety

Many children experience anxiety. Parents are often concerned about their children's worries, fears and anxieties but these are often a normal part of a child's development. It is worth seeking support if their worries are affecting their well-being and having a significant impact on their day to day functioning and enjoyment in life.

Some children find it hard to express their anxiety and this sometimes shows as defiant behaviour or temper tantrums.

Here are some signs that your child may be anxious:

  • Anger, aggression, irritability, opposition and defiance

  • Having problems with eating

  • Tearful or crying more than usual

  • Lacking in confidence to try new things

  • A loss of concentration

  • Wetting the bed having previously been dry at night

  • Worrying constantly about things that have happened in the past or might happen

  • Having difficulty falling or staying asleep or night terrors.

  • Avoiding or refusing to do things

  • Withdrawing from social interactions

  • Physical complaints such as headaches, tiredness or stomach ache.

It is important to explain what anxiety is to children and the physical affects it can have on our bodies. They can be helped to recognise signs of anxiety in themselves and encouraged to talk about it and ask for help when they need it.

Here are my top 5 books for supporting children with anxiety:

This book tells the story of a girl who can't get rid of a worry. It is a sensitive book & encourages children to share their hidden worries, no matter how big or small they may be.

Suggested follow up activities:

- Invite your child to draw or paint their emotions - your child will be focussing entirely on what they are feeling.

- Make sock puppets and have your child act out scenes that make them anxious. You can support them with how to manage their anxieties well.

Worries Go Away is a lovely story with a rhyme throughout. It is a great starting point for discussion with your child. It deals with the importance of opening up about feelings and encourages children to talk to others when they are scared or worried.

Suggested follow up activities:

- Invite your child to use line art to show how they are feeling. Line art is a very simple form of art, but it can contain a lot of emotion.

- Ask your child to draw a place where they feel safe. If they don't want to draw it, they can paint it, sculpt it with clay or create it with Lego. This will remind them that they are safe and supported with their worries.

The Worry Glasses identifies 'anxiety' in a very child friendly way, and gives children words for their worries. The book helps a child to understand how fears & worries are directly connected to how they behave and what is happening in their body.

Suggested follow up activities:

- Support your child in making their own worry glasses. This will help them to understand whether they are magnifying their worries.

- Draw around your child's body whilst they are laying on a piece of paper (I find a roll of wallpaper backing paper perfect for this exercise). Then invite your child to show on their body where their worry is and how full of worry they are.

- Encourage your child to make their own worry box and they can put their worries in the box.

All Birds have Anxiety is a wonderful book helping children to recognise the symptoms of anxiety & ways to manage it. I would recommend this book for slightly older children and adolescents.

Suggested follow up activities:

- Put together a journal. Journals don't have to be just based around words. They can make an art journal as well, that lets them visually express their emotions.

- Create a postcard that contains coping strategies. This can be kept somewhere a child can easily access it as a reminder of what to do when they are feeling anxious.

You've Got Dragons is one of my all time favourite books, a lovely metaphor for explaining anxiety to children. The book explores the physical symptoms of anxiety, how we all have 'dragons', and the importance of sharing them.

Suggested follow up activities:

- Invite your child to draw their own dragon. What colour is it? What are its features? What name would they give their dragon?

- Invite your child to create their own dragon from clay or play doh. This enables your child to make a physical manifestation of their anxiety. They can choose to keep their dragon, decorate it or smash it up!

Some further ways to support a child struggling with anxiety:

  • Exercise can be a great way to relieve stress and help your child to relax

  • Try to establish consistent daily routines

  • Notice your child's behaviour, are they trying to communicate something that they can't find the words for?

  • Help your child to identify how they are feeling

  • Acknowledge your child's fears and anxieties and let them know you are there to help them. Resist the urge to tell them to stop feeling anxious.

  • Teach your child relaxation techniques, breathing & grounding exercises.

Remember that it's normal to feel anxious occasionally.

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