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Recognising & Helping Kids With Anxiety - Jo Stockdale

 

Because it shows up in lots of different ways.

It's been a funny week for me, and probably most of you. Coupled with the normality & structure that's returned to life is the absence of my child, leaving me alone with my thoughts about what he's doing, if and how he's coping...

Long before Covid struck, anxiety was the primary mental health issue for today's kids, and certainly it's been-and remains-the biggest, single concern I've heard from parents over the last few months.

 

We tend to think of anxiety as negative, but it actually serves a very important purpose; ensuring we keep our 'tribe' nearby, we stay wary of danger and prepared for threat.

The downside is that; being the work of the 'survival brain'; anxiety is not rational, and so trying to reason with an agitated child can be draining & frustrating. This can make anxiety confusing, but it can also be very difficult to spot, because it often doesn't show up as 'I am worried about...'

 

So what else does it look like?

Aside from the very useful infographic below, a classic sign is the need to control. Although it's developmentally normal for kids to mimic their grown ups, when they try to take charge of adult tasks, manage others, and struggle to trust your answers, that's often anxiety looking right at you!

 

And what about being 'overly emotional'? Frequent 'meltdowns', being quick to anger or cry, being 'manipulative'; these are all behaviours than can trap us into 'managing' our kids... All too easy when we object to their behaviours and thus focus on asking for 'better', rather than recognising the insecurity beneath.

 

The bad news is that there's no quick win in overcoming anxiety.

The good news is that there's plenty you can do, every day, to help your child-and you-feel a little less anxious. Here's three ideas to start with...

 

Thank & Appreciate

Avoid getting locked into power-struggles when your child tries to control. Simply thank them for trying to help, remind them that you're the grown-up, and there'll be plenty of time for them to do the adult tasks when they get there. Then move on. 

 

Negotiate

A little bit of wiggle room goes a long way.  Allow your kids to to make decisions and have a say, appropriately, wherever they can. When kids have a strong sense of agency & autonomy, they are much less likely to seek it out elsewhere. Give them some 'personal power', and make sure they know it!

 

Don't rescue too quickly

Counter-intuitive as it may seem, don't rush to solve your kids problems for them. Instead, work with them, firstly to identify the source of their worries, and then to help them think of the solutions themselves.

Explore both of your ideas together, especially if they need to manage their anxiety while you're not there.

Repeat it, write it down, draw it if it helps, but make sure they know exactly what they've decided to do, so they feel confident that they have the tools they need to cope.

 

Author: Jo Stockdale, Well Within Reach