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Seven ways to help your anxious child

After sharing their tips on how to re-set screen limits with your child after the summer of lockdowns, the clever types at the super-helpful Parent Practice are back again. This time sharing their advice on supporting our children through these still, particularly, anxious times.

It may come as no surprise that a recent Oxford University study, conducted during lockdown, concluded that the age group suffering most from anxiety were primary school children. What with the rule of six, children being split from friendship groups and whole classes being sent home if one person tests positive for COVID19, it’s no wonder children are worried and getting more stressed. Add to that the recent Health Secretary’s warning: “Don’t kill your gran by catching coronavirus and passing it on” it’s hard for our young ones not to be unsettled.

As parents there is much we can do to support our children...

1. Be a good role model for your child and be a calming influence

Your children are watching you all the time so your own behaviour speaks more loudly than words. For example if you are scared of dogs and see a big dog approaching, it is tempting to cross the road in order to protect your child from what you perceive as danger, but what you cement in is that there is something to be scared of.

2. Schedule in some calm time every day

Have a set time when you can all snuggle together in a den and create a low stimulus environment. Placing a large duvet cover over a table creates a zen den - a dark and quiet place to read books with a torch.

3. Take time to listen to and validate their feelings

Telling them “not to worry” or “you’ll be fine” just doesn’t work as you can’t take away a worry by telling your child they shouldn’t worry. It’s not our job to take away the feelings of upset. It’s our job to help them cope and we do that by letting them know the feelings they have of worry, fear, doubt are normal, everyone has them and they actually serve a purpose in prompting us to take action.

4. Be an anxiety detective

It can be difficult to work out what is normal stress and what is anxiety, and where that tipping point is. Trust your instinct as you are the expert on your child so look out for anything that feels really different e.g. loss of appetite, nightmares, tics or stammers or perhaps withdrawing from activities they used to love.

5. Build their confidence by building competencies

One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is the gift of self-reliance and if you do too much for your child it gives them the message they can’t manage alone. A resilient child is one who can come up with solutions to problems. True confidence comes from feeling you can cope with whatever comes up in life.

6. Teach your child deep belly breathing

Breathing is an amazing tool that signals our parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body down. Try imagining a steaming cup of hot chocolate filled with marshmallows and inhale the smell deeply for 4 seconds and then breathe out for twice as long, cooling the drink down.

7. Set up a worry box

Create and decorate a box where your child can write all their worries down on individual pieces of paper, fold them and pop them in the box. Place the box out of sight (not under the bed) and at the end of the week at a set time, review all the worries. Have they materialized or have they just taken care of themselves?

Further resources:

For kids: ‘Overcoming your Child’s Fears and Worries’ by Cathy Creswell

For adults: ‘The opposite of Worry’ by Lawrence Cohen Mindfulness for kids www.headspace.com

Anxiety UK

NHS Every Mind Matters campaign

Elaine Halligan is Director of The Parent Practice, an organisation delivering practical solutions to enable parents to bring out the best in their children, and author of a best selling book called ‘My Child’s Different’.

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