Managing Anxiety in Children

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:

  1. Anxiety in children is experienced by them as very real. It is not ‘attention seeking’ or ‘bad behaviour’.
  2. 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.
  3. It is important that we don’t dismiss children’s worries or tell them that they’re being silly.
  4. It’s important that they can talk to those they love about what is bothering them.
  5. Relaxation, mindfulness & yoga for children have been shown by research to help anxiety. Groups are available locally.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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

 

 

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Infant Mental Health Awareness Week runs from June 13th-19th.           

This week provides an opportunity to focus attention on the wellbeing, social and emotional development of our babies and young children. It highlights the importance of early relationships and a relationship based approach to interventions with infants and families. As our understanding of IMH and its evidence base develops, so also does our knowledge of how to apply this knowledge and an ‘IMH lens’ to interactions with infants, parents and caregivers in health and social services. 

What is infant mental health?

Infant Mental health (IMH) refers to the healthy social and emotional development of Infants starting at conception up to three years of age.

The first 1000 days of life are recognised as a critical period of opportunity to support infant mental health. Decades of research have shown that it is the quality of the early caregiver relationship that is a significant determinant of the infant’s healthy social and emotional development and in turn physical health, right up to adulthood.

 

The National Healthy Childhood Programme has embedded IMH as the foundation of the development of its resources and in the approach of the delivery of the universal child health service. This embedding of key messages can be seen in the My Child suite of books (www.mychild.ie/books) and also on www.MyChild.ie  where key messages around bonding and relationship building have been embedded for the parent/caregiver.

 

In clinical practice the topic of IMH has been included for the first time in the National Standardised Child Health Record. To build on this, the National Healthy Childhood Programme have just completed a suite of three eLearning units which are now available on HSEland for healthcare practitioners / caregivers who are working with children and families.  

 

Throughout the week you will see videos and key IMH messaging being promoted on the HSE MyChild social media pages ( Facebook / Instagram ). Keep an eye out in the National Newspapers for articles from our experts also. (IrishTimes article)  

 

In addition The National Healthy Childhood Programme have developed a series of ten practical videos with HSE expert advice which are now available on YouTube and on the relevant pages on the www.mychild.ie website.

These videos (2-3 minutes each) are aimed at parents/guardians of children (0 – 3 years).

These new video resources are available here while lots more expert advice for every step of pregnancy, baby and toddler health can also be found at www.mychild.ie

There are a suite of posters available focusing on the promotion of IMH messaging to order from healthy.childhood@hse.ie

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