How to Identify the Signs of Anxiety in Children and What to do About it
Parents, do you know if your child is not doing well in school or may be struggling?
It’s clear these times are worrying for us all, but do you know the signs of your child not doing well in school or may be struggling?
When the COVID-19 was officially declared a global pandemic, people were understandably concerned about what this would mean for their mental health. But the same level of concern is warranted while we process the various changes associated with transitioning back to whatever our new “normal" will be.
According to Beyond Blue, one in seven young people between the ages of four and 17 years old experience a mental health condition each year. With the added pressures of the global pandemic, it’s even more important now to be able to identify the warning signs of anxiety in our kids.
What is anxiety?
According to raisingchildren.net.au, it can be a normal part of development for children to experience signs of anxiety which can come and go over short periods of time.
These anxieties can be different in babies and children at different developmental stages. For babies and toddlers, that might be a fear of separation or loud noises. Preschoolers may be concerned about being alone or afraid of the dark. School-aged children might be afraid of ghosts, social situations or school tests.
Children tend to become more worried once they are able to imagine the future and any bad things that may happen in it. Therefore, worrying generally occurs in children over the age of around eight years old as this is the time they naturally develop this ability.
The Christian Council Association of Australia and Australian Christian College, have come together with Educational Psychologists to compile an eBook about called Anxiety in Children: A guide for Parents. You can download and print off the the complete guide here or head to the ACC website.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and if you’re concerned your child may be experiencing anxiety, always seek professional guidance.
Some physical signs of anxiety include:
- feeling jittery or shaky
- shortness of breath
- butterflies in the stomach
- racing heart
- sweaty palms, dry mouth
- tense muscles.
These signs may also be absolutely normal reactions to stressful situations, and don’t necessarily mean your child has an anxiety disorder. But if you are aware of the signs and know how to identify them in your child, you are better equipped to seek advice.
Other signs of anxiety in children include:
- frequent worry or needing a lot of reassurance
- difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- trouble concentrating, restlessness
- not eating properly
- having unwanted and intrusive thoughts
- being angry or irritable
- complaining of headaches or tummy upsets
- using the toilet frequently
- trying to avoid the situation they’re concerned about
- wanting things to be perfect and getting upset when they’re not
- refusal to talk or do what you ask
- asks for help with things they can do for themselves
- not wanting to get ready for school
- refusal to sleep without a parent or other adult
- frequently asking you to do or say things for them
- a tendency to focus on the dangerous or negative side of things.
What can I do?
If you notice your child not doing well in school and his/her anxiety appears to be affecting their school work, home life or friendships, you should seek professional assessment and advice. Raising Children suggests you speak to your child’s teacher, school counsellor, GP, paediatrician, or your local children’s health or community health centre. Some states also have specialist anxiety clinics or you can seek help from your local mental health service.
Some immediate strategies for dealing with your child’s anxiety attacks are listed in the ACC eBook. Here are just a few:
- encouraging your child to take some slow, deep breaths to help settle the physical effects of anxiety – try breathing in for three counts, holding for three, then out for three.
- once they’re calm enough, encourage your child to talk about their feelings.
- listening to them and acknowledging their fears or concerns; don’t dismiss or ignore them.
- encouraging positive thinking – children with anxiety often get stuck in unhelpful thinking patterns such as focusing on worst-case scenarios and ‘what ifs’. Help them shift to a more helpful thinking style. One way to do this is challenging their scary thoughts with facts. For example, remind them that thunder and lightning can’t hurt them while they’re safe indoors, and crocodiles can’t climb up the S-bend into the toilet. Remind them of times when they faced similar issues and things worked out fine.
- planning for how they’ll respond if things don’t turn out as they’d hoped. For example, what they’ll do if a group of people are unfriendly or leave them out.
- maintaining a loving, caring relationship with your child.
- avoiding labelling your child as anxious, fearful or shy.
- praising them for trying things that provoke anxiety.
Remember, signs of anxiety don’t always mean your child is experiencing anxiety, but they should be taken seriously as an indicator that they may need an assessment from a medical professional. If you’re ever in doubt, always seek professional advice.
Mental Health Organisations Singapore: Counselling Helplines
The following are some mental health helplines, Singapore, that you can approach for free counselling sessions if you notice your child not doing well in school due to his/her anxiety. These are great options for those who are not comfortable with actual, in-person sessions and would prefer to talk over the phone or get online counselling.
Care Corner Counselling Centre
Aimed at reaching out to needy, lower-income families, this non-profit social service organisation has 33 centres in Singapore. Their services are open to anyone who needs help and one can reach them on 1800-353 5800 for free Mandarin counselling.
Fei Yue eCounselling Centre
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS)
This is a 24-hours open suicide prevention helpline. Call on 1800-221 4444 to seek help if you have suicidal tendency.
Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH)
This helpline is available for all types of mental health-related help. Reach out to them at 1800-283 7019.
Tinkle Friend helpline (by Singapore Children’s Society)
This is an initiative for primary school children. You can call them on 1800-274 4788 (Monday to Friday, 2.30 pm to 5 pm) or chat online on www.tinklefriend.com.
This article was first published in KidSpot and republished on theAsianparent with permission.