Dr. Elizabeth McQuaid, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Donegal Psychology Department
Anxiety is a normal part of being human and can occur in adults and children. Some level of anxiety is perfectly normal and can actually help us to try new things or to perform better at activities. Anxiety is considered to be a problem when the level of anxiety is out of proportion to the stressful situation or when the feeling of anxiety continues after a stressful situation is over. It is also considered to be outside of the typical range if it appears for no apparent reason or if it significantly affects a child’s quality of life.
Symptoms of anxiety in children include frequent tummy aches or headaches, excessive shyness, difficulty taking part in activities and wanting to avoid situations. Anxiety may also make it difficult for children to be away from their caregivers and they may be clingy, cry or have tantrums on separation.
Parenting an anxious child can be really tough as caregivers are often unsure what to do or say. There are a few key points to remember when children are anxious:
- Anxiety in children is experienced by them as very real. It is not ‘attention seeking’ or ‘bad behaviour’.
- Anxiety can be even harder for children to deal with because their brains are still developing and they don’t, as yet, have the words or problem solving skills to cope.
- It is important that we don’t dismiss children’s worries or tell them that they’re being silly.
- It’s important that they can talk to those they love about what is bothering them.
- Relaxation, mindfulness & yoga for children have been shown by research to help anxiety. Groups are available locally.
- Boosting confidence by encouraging children to participate in other activities that they can do well can also help. Martial arts, scouting groups, music, art classes and non-team sports may be easier for the anxious child.
- It is important for caregivers to manage their own stress levels. If we are stressed, our children will also be stressed. It is important that children get to spend quality, fun time with the people they love. Stress management groups for adults are run, free of charge, locally by the HSE and are available to all.
- Many great books have been written on helping children cope with anxiety. The names of some of these can be found on the Parent Hub website and many are available in the local library.
Helpful Anxiety books for Children and Teenagers.
Helping Your anxious Child: A Step-by-Step Guide. R. Rappe, A. Wignall & S. Spence.
What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kids Guide to Anxiety. Dawn Heubner.
When My Worries get Too Big: A Relaxation Book for Children. Kari Dunn Baron.
The Whole Brain Child. Daniel Siegel & Tina Bryson.
Parenting from the Inside Out. Daniel Siegel & Tina Bryson.
Raising a Secure Child. K. Hoffman, G. Cooper & B. Powell.
Sitting Like a Frog: Mindfulness for Children. Eline Snell
The Huge Bag of Worries. Virginia Ironside
Morris and the Bundle of Worries. Jill Seeney
Hold On to Your Kids. Gabor Mate & Gordon Neufield.
When Someone Very Special Dies: Children can Learn to Cope with Grief. Marge Heegaard.
Helping your Anxious Teen. Sheila Josephs.
The Anxiety Book for Teens . Lisa Schab.
Helpful Apps on Anxiety for children and Teenagers.
Stop, Breathe and think Kids: Age 5+
Well Beyond Meditation for kids: Age 9-11(Apple Store only)
Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame Street: Age 6+
Smiling Mind: Age 4 +
Headspace: Mindfulness: Age 9+
Mind Yeti: Age 5-12 (Apple Store only)
Mindshift CBT : Age 12 +
Superstretch Yoga: Age 5-11