Anxiety is such an overused term in todays world, but if you really suffer with anxiety issues then you know it’s no light hearted matter. In fact it’s horrendous and debilitating. This is why it is so important to help children with anxiety.
Different things affect different people, but during your life you’ll no doubt experience anxiety on some level. Circumstances can make us anxious, waiting for news can make us anxious, rollercoasters can make us anxious, the unknown can make us anxious, but these soon pass. Anxiety as a diagnosis does not pass. It can lie dormant for years, and then it can attack out of the blue. It can consume your every waking thought. It can lurk within the night sky. It can be anywhere, at anytime. The only certain thing about anxiety is that it’s uncertain.
I’ve suffered from anxiety for a few years now, which I take medication for, but it only takes the edge from it. Some days I don’t have many anxious thoughts, other days they suffocate me, even in my sleep. It’s not conscious worry, it’s a suffocating feeling. It makes your heart feel like it missed a beat. It feels like you can’t breathe in deep enough. It feels like the world’s in slow-motion. It feels like a million things. It gives you irrational thoughts. It turns paper cuts into septic wounds. It turns headaches in tumours. It turns a cough into a terminal illness. It turns people into vindictive evil doers. It turns school runs into catastrophic events. It puts an invisible force fields around front doors. It imagines the worst of each scenario and then replays them in your head. It remembers words you spoke five years ago over and over again. It makes you restless. It’s erratic, irrational, but it’s unstoppable. Sometimes you can grip it, and sometimes you can’t.
As an adult I have come to understand my anxiety, but it still scares the hell out of me sometimes. The lack of control over it is one of the worst parts for me. It may all be in my head, but my whole body reacts to it. And the same is true with children. My eldest suffers with anxiety, it’s alongside his ASD so they often intertwine. It breaks my heart seeing his anxiety arise and not being able to take it away from him. BUT I am determined to help him understand it and deal with it in the moment. It’s been a long learning process for me, so I’m going to impart all I’ve learnt to him at an early age. Even now I can see a huge difference in his response to things.
A good self esteem can help battle anxiety. I don’t have a good self esteem. I battle that everyday. So I’m determined to ensure my boys have a healthy concept of themselves, it’s so important.
We, my husband and I, do so many things at home to help our children have a healthy view of themselves. I think it’s fundamental in having a healthy childhood. I often leave little notes on their door telling them reasons we think they’re amazing, or a note under their pillows to remind them they’re loved. These are such simple things, but have a mighty impact upon their hearts and minds. We cuddle, we say I love you out loud, a lot. We have random ta parties just because, I print ‘I love you’ on their toast, I make them certificates and stickers. All these little thins let them know they,re thought of and cared for.
I try to teach them that they don’t need to aim for perfection. I always tell them they just have to try their best at things and that not everybody is amazing at everything, and that’s ok. I don’t put pressure on them academically, we try to make things fun. THEY are not a spelling test score, THEY are not a maths score. They are loved, and important despite scores.
We also made some strength jars last year – they worked amazing and still do today. I got them to write down things they like about themselves and things they are good at and then put them into a jar to keep on the shelf in our lounge. Their faces beam when they reread them and add to them. It’s a good self-esteem boost for them.
I teach them the power of encouragement and we often play a little game where we have to tell each other one nice thing or pay each other a compliment. This helps them realise it feels good to be kind too.
Self esteem is so important in helping anxiety, it is a key component of being able to battle it head on.
When my seven year old is particularly anxious he licks his lips and chews his sleeves, so we have fidget toys on hand to help occupy his hands and channel his anxiety in a healthier way. These work time and time again. He also takes one to school. We have a bucket full of them. We have egg timers, liquid timers, lights, squishy toys, Jacobs ladders, rubix cubes, putty, marble mazes, exercise elastics, so any things, and they all help. We will often use this bucket of fidget and relaxation toys for five minutes before they go to sleep to help relax them and turn their little minds into sleep mode. Both of my children enjoy this bucket of toys, not just the one with anxiety, they’re a very good calming tool.
Reassurance is also a big key in helping your child learn to deal with anxiety. Anxiety gives you such irrational thoughts, and even though you know they’re irrational your mind still convinces you they’re real. It makes you feel like you’re being stupid, so it’s hard to verbalise them, but it’s so important to. Reassure them it’s ok, and if it worries them then it’s never silly. After years of reassurance my boy now tells us his worries more often than not and often without prompting. This enables you to work through them logically with them an give them a technique to try and bat away the anxious thoughts.
We also have a Worry Monster. It’s worked wonders! My boys can write down what’s bothering them and then pop it into the worry monsters mouth and zip it up. It’s like a way to vent and release I guess, and it also gives you a chance to read their worries and further help them.
When anxiety strikes it can conjure up so many emotions and even as an adult it’s confusing, so imagine how hard it is for children. We purchased little a keying fob of faces and emotions for our boy to look through and figure out which ones he felt. He loves this. It helps him ground his feelings and put a name to them, even if he is feeling a mixture of four at once.
If your child suffers with anxiety then I’d advise you to seek medical help and also talk to their school. You know your child better than anybody and anxiety is not something to take lightly, if dealt with properly it doesn’t have to be debilitating. Children are resilient creatures and with the right help they can get a handle on their anxiety. But the help doesn’t just start and end with professionals. There are so many things you can do at home to help them, like all the activities and items I’ve listed here in this post. There are also lots of books out their for children to better understand their anxiety. This helps lift the shame barrier too, and helps them to understand they’re not different, just facing a different challenge to some of their friends.
Anxiety is not nice, but it doesn’t have to define you.