Many children experience anxiety about a variety of situations, going to school, a new and different environment, a change in routine, just about anything different new and unique can trigger anxiety for children and adolescents. Anxiety is typically characterized by both physical and mental responses to a fearful event. The physical reactions include shortness of breath, sweating, heart racing, increased blood pressure, fatigue, nausea, chest pain, stomach aches, or headaches. During the physical symptoms, mental symptoms include feeling a sense of fear, dread, and unease, trouble concentrating, anticipating the worst, irritability, restlessness, watching and waiting for signs of danger, feeling like your mind’s gone blank. Occasionally a person’s anxiety may become so overwhelming that they have a panic attack. When a child is experiencing all of this problem, it can influence their academic development due to fear of school, or create problems for their family when they refuse to leave the house to go on an errand with mom or dad. If you think that, your child is experiencing anxiety there are several ideas for how they can work through their feelings such as the following.
Deep diaphragmatic breathing can produce a calming effect because during stress and anger people tend to inhale and hold their breath. To complete a deep breath cycle make sure the child exhales slightly longer than their inhalation. For example, teach your child to take a deep breath in counting to three, hold the breath for a moment and then exhale to the count of four or five. This process tells the body that it can relax and begin to take deeper breaths while slowing the heart rate and calming your child. Sustained and continued practice when the child is not anxious helps them to be able to practice deep breathing when they are anxious.
Progressive relaxation is the process of alternately tensing and relaxing muscles across the body several times over the course of 30 minutes to produce a more relaxed sensation. Help your child by instructing them to tighten muscle groups for 10 seconds and then release and relax those muscles for 20 seconds. Working through all of the major muscle groups i.e. starting with the legs (tense and release), then stomach (tighten and release), and then chest (tense and release). Continued practice with this technique will lead to decreased anxiety and increased calm feelings.
Journaling and sharing can help the child to recognize what makes them feel anxious and assist you as a parent to intervene and reduce their stressors. Encourage your child when you see them feeling worried to write their thoughts down or to talk to you about them. Questions to ask can include, when do you feel most/least anxious, or how can I help you. Share your experience and normalize with your child that it is OK to feel anxious or worried and that at some time everyone feels scared or nervous.
To further help your kids limit their intake of caffeine and stimulants. Too much caffeine has been linked to nervousness, irritability, anxiety, tremulousness, muscle twitching, insomnia, headaches. Children having fun and exercising will feel happier, rested, and relaxed. A structured sleep schedule will help increase feelings of overall happiness.
Anxiety can become debilitating for children, adolescents, and their families. If a child’s fear has become overwhelming and as a parent, you need help to care for your child, a knowledgeable pediatrician or counselor can effectively help you and your child return to feelings of wellbeing.