As many as 8-11% of children and adolescents suffer from anxiety that affects their ability to get on with their lives.
All little children experience numerous fears as they pass through the developmental phase of childhood. It is common for children to have fears about the dark, insects, ghosts, kidnappers, and getting lost or abandoned. In most cases, these fears tend to disappear over time and are simply passing episodes.
But, for some children, these fears persist and can develop into full-blown anxiety disorders. In school-age children, signs of anxiety could include:
- Being extremely shy and timid
- Having real difficulties in mixing with other children
- Having difficulty going to sleep and staying asleep
- Experiencing repeated nightmares
- Continually complaining of headaches or stomach aches
- Constantly asking for reassurance
Here are 5 ways to help reduce anxiety in children:
Helping children stick to a predictable schedule of proper sleep, healthy eating, and enough exercise lays the foundation for good stress management and lower anxiety levels. Eating processed foods and sugar, in particular, can lead to mood fluctuations and irritability, often causing children to overreact.
Ensure there is enough balance between schoolwork and other responsibilities and recreation/ “down-time.” Children need to be immersed in the world of play!
Teach your child calm breathing. Have them lie down on the floor with a book on their chest; breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, have them try to keep the book still (the lower abdomen should rise and fall with each incoming and outgoing breath). Breathing should be slow and natural.
Another technique is 1-nostril breathing in which they breathe in and out through only one nostril (close the mouth and hold the other nostril closed); breathing in for 10 and out for 10 for 5 minutes will force a relaxed breathing pattern and oxygenate the blood helping them to feel more relaxed.
There are also a lot of excellent free apps out there to help with relaxation such as Calm.com and Insight Timer.
For the child who expresses excessive worries and fears, have them write down their thoughts in a journal. If the worries persist, have them record the fears as they sound in their head (most cell phones have a Voice Memo option or equivalent) and listen to the recording for 8-10 minutes daily. With repetition, the worries will start to sound unalarming and boring. They can add to the recording or make new ones if new concerns appear.
5.TAKE IT SLOW
Teach your child how to face their fears gradually. If there is a fear of dogs, have them practice being around different (known, safe) dogs and gradually increase their contact. If there is a fear of trying something new, help them ease into it, always moving in the direction of not avoiding it.
For example, my son did not want to go to an all-day basketball clinic offered at a local school where he would know no one; while we didn’t force him to go, we did take him to watch 30 minutes of the clinic with the goal that he will attend the next one offered.
Giving him that preparation and easing him into it, while also discussing his particular worries about it, helped make it more manageable and encouraged him not to avoid unfamiliar activities and events.
The Depression and Anxiety Support Group has a counseling line for parents or teachers open Mondays to Fridays from 8am to 7pm and Saturdays from 8am to 5pm where help is available and brochures can be sent to you free of charge. The group can be contacted from Monday to Saturday on (011) 783-1474/6.