Anxiety in children has been on a steep upwards climb over the last 5 years. For parents, seeing the statistics is startling and extremely distressing, but should not be ignored.
According to the latest report on children's mental health in Ireland, there are 115,000 children under the age of 18 years who have been diagnosed with mental ill health and we expect the waiting list for help for these young people to exceed 3,000 before the end of the year.
This is alarming, but as a parent you do not need to feel helpless in this epidemic. Senator Collette Kelleher put it well when she said "A child does not come into the world mentally unwell, feeling anxious and worried; everything around them causes the child to end up in that situation."
Early Detection is Crucial
There are tell tale signs of anxious behaviour that parents can be on the look out for. No age is too young to identify these signals and the earlier children are taught how to manage these feelings, the better equipped they are to deal with them throughout their lives. It's proven that those who are good at managing their emotions are less likely to develop mental health issues so educating your child on this is likely the best way to protect them.
“If we were able to teach these children how to regulate their thoughts and emotions, we can build emotional resilience in them to prevent alcohol or drug addictions, depression or anxiety from developing in early adulthood.” Deirdre Heenan, Director of the Health & Wellbeing Research Centre
A Checklist for Recognising Anxiety in Children
To help identify the signs of anxiety in young children we have included the checklist below which was created by Twinkl Educational Publishing, an online educational publishing house, producing teaching and educational materials.
If you identify that your child is anxious, don't worry, there are many things you can do to help them before seeking professional help.
Tips for Helping Your Child with Anxiety
Education and communication are the best places to start. Here are a few pointers to help your child deal with their anxiety:
Let them talk about their feelings
Let them know it's OK to express how they're feeling, good or bad. Create a safe space for them to open up about everything to you without feeling like they will be judged. Try to ask open-ended questions only and avoid trying to validate their feelings. You don't need to offer a solution or a reason, you just need to listen.
Help them to see a new perspective
When they've told you about something that's upsetting them or they're worried about, try to guide their thinking to a more positive perspective of the situation. This is not always possible and shouldn't be forced. Always acknowledge their feelings, it's important that they feel heard, but try to reframe the situation so they can focus on a side of it they may not have realised was there or possible.
Don't avoid the things that make them anxious
Removing things or avoiding environments that make your child anxious is a short term solution but will make the child's difficulty dealing with stressful situations much worse in the long run. If you get rid of all the scary things in their life, what happens when you're not there? They will always be worried that something bad will happen and you won't be there to deal with it for them. Instead, teach them to cope when bad things happen. Teach them acceptance that there are bad things in the world but that they will be OK and they will manage.
Lead by example.
Remember that your child is constantly watching and learning their behaviours from you. If you get stressed out in a traffic jam, they are observing that behaviour. If you easily get irritated by things that cannot be controlled, they are also learning that reaction. Take some time to practice mindfulness and exercise good mental health for yourself and your child will benefit too.