One morning, Anna found her son John shivering under the sheets and refusing to go to school. She assumed he may be down with the flu and consulted a doctor. John’s temperature and reports were normal. Anna was puzzled about why John was visibly unwell and yet nothing was confirmed by the tests. Later that day, John’s teacher informed Anna that an important test was conducted in school that day. Over the months Anna noticed the same pattern in John. Each time a test was announced, he started falling sick. After consulting with the school psychologist John was diagnosed with anxiety that was triggered by tests and a fear of failing.
Anxiety is a common occurrence in adults and children alike. Children feel anxious about different things at different ages. Many of these worries are a normal part of growing up. Anxious children often stay quiet and well behaved and may go unnoticed by their parents and teacher. Some children can be disruptive and may act out. These kids are often labeled as rude, disrespectful, or undisciplined. In both cases, this type of untreated anxiety can lead to depression, problems with career and relationships, and a decreased quality of life.
As parents, we need to observe our child’s behavior for visible signs of anxiety and if they:
- Become irritable, clingy, have angry outbursts or throw tantrums in public.
- Have problems sleeping, wake up often in night or lose their appetite.
- Lack confidence to try new things.
- Start avoiding everyday activities, such as meeting friends, going to school etc.
- Display physical symptoms like trembling, sweating or have trouble breathing in social situations.
- Have selective mutism where they are able to speak in some situations but not in others.
- Have physical discomfort like headaches or stomach pains that don’t stem from other medical conditions.
A little anxiety is normal in children. It becomes a problem when it starts to get in the way of a child’s everyday life. Feeling anxious is natural after something upsetting happens or there is a test at school, or the child is anticipating a big change in his life. But when this anxiety lasts a long time and prevents children from doing things like going to school or seeing friends, then it becomes an anxiety disorder. It is important that parents talk to children. Kids need to be reassured that they are heard and understood.
Here are some ways to try to reduce anxiety in children without putting on additional pressure on them:
Recognize signs of anxiety
Teach your child to recognize signs of anxiety in themselves. Encourage them to manage their anxiety and ask for help when they need it. Practice relaxation techniques like slow breathing or thinking of a happy place when anxiety strikes.
Keep them busy
A great way to do that is engaging them with puzzles. Puzzles can help refocus young minds while stimulating it by forcing them to use their problem-solving skills and exercising creativity. In turn, children are distracted from stressful situations.
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Pay attention to nutrition
Young children need good food for their developing bodies. Food plays an important role in brain health. Proteins help stimulate the production of the brain chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine, which carry impulses between cells. Tryptophan has positive effects on stress and anxiety because this amino acid helps your brain produce feel-good chemicals. Ensure a good amount of leafy vegetables, oranges, legumes, poultry and dry fruits are included in your child’s diet.
Teach them problem-solving
When faced with a problem or a trigger, help children to calm down and think of a solution to the problem. Let them be creative on the ideas and write them all down, no matter how silly they sound. Then, pick the solution they think would be most effective and put it into action. The solution may not resolve instantly but this is fine. It gives children time to settle down and think of alternate solutions.
The most common anxiety trigger for children is exam pressure and the fear of failing. A little nervousness before a test is quite normal. But it should not hamper the child’s ability to perform well. Covering basic concepts on a daily basis reduces the pressure on children instead of studying new concepts right before the exam. Using puzzles, solving math problems, engaging in stimulated games all help in strengthening the core concepts of subjects; in turn reducing anxiety.
If the anxiety symptoms persist and interfere with simple daily activities do not hesitate to seek professional help. As parents, on a daily basis, we can help our children to prepare in small measures to face new challenges. Discomfort and stress are inherent to growth and our aim should be to prepare children to tackle difficult or new situations without anxiety. By dealing with their fear in small amounts in a safe space, kids learn to deal with bigger challenges that come up!
“You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”