How to help your child with anxious feelings
Looking after your children with Shout
Our normal routines have been turned upside down recently, and it’s no surprise that there are lots of anxious feelings floating around. Our children too are likely feeling nervous about what’s coming next – when they’re able to see their friends and family and how life at school may have changed.
Through our partnership with BBC Children in Need and their national programme around children and young people's mental health, A Million & Me, we’ve worked with experts at Shout – a free UK text service for people in crisis – to bring you tips and tricks to help manage worries and anxious feelings in children.
Break it down
Problems, to-do lists and pressures – all of these things can often feel much bigger in a child’s mind than they are in reality. When a child experiences anxious feelings, their brain goes into fight, flight, or freeze mode – just like adults. By helping your child break down big problems into tiny achievable steps or goals, they’ll be able to see that one minute can add up to one hour, then a day, then a week. They’ll soon realise that each small part is manageable even if the big task isn’t.
Create a routine
Predictability is one of the most important things to create in your child’s life. Change and unpredictability can cause cortisol (the fancy term for a stress hormone) to flood their brain and cause that fight or flight mode to kick in. When we adults create a predictable routine, we help to cut out the stress and uncertainty. As we get used to our new ways of living, it’s super important to keep a sense of normal in place, so establishing specific times for meals, school work, family time, and everything in between is a great place to start.
Your child may have overcome anxious feelings in the past, so exploring with them a time when their feelings were strong and when they weren’t, can help them to manage their feelings in the future. Ask them about that time when they felt worried and have them rate their feelings on a scale from one to five, and look out for the patterns that may form at point one and five. What are they doing when anxious feelings are low? What are they doing when they peak? With this knowledge up your sleeve, you’ll hopefully be able to help them manage an anxious situation in the future.
As parents and carers, we’re used to doing everything for our children, it’s in the job description. When we let them achieve things on their own, their independence and confidence grow – and these good feelings help to push out worry and stress. Give them a task to do on their own whether it’s putting away toys or helping you carry some of the shopping – it’ll surprise the both of you when you see what they’re capable of.
Going back to school can bring about anxious feelings, especially as they’ve spent lots of time getting used to life learning at home! We’ve put together some advice for you to follow if your child has gone back to school – read on.
P is for preparation
The more we can prepare for the things in our control, the less stress we tend to experience. Going back to school can spark lots of uncertainty. Help your child practice their school day routine at home, from waking up to getting dressed to taking their lunch break, is a great way to get them used to their first day back, whenever that may be.
Avoid excessive reassurance
It can be difficult for us to see children upset. We’re prone to assuring them with words like 'everything will be great' or 'don’t worry, you’ll love it'. Sometimes what we say can come across as negative, and that nervous feelings are something that needs to be fixed. Instead, share with your child that it’s okay to feel anxious about how life at school might have changed. Remind them that we all have emotions, and whether they’re negative or positive, it’s normal and healthy to have them.
The thought of our children back in the classroom during these different times can have an impact on us, and you might experience some anxious feelings of your own. Children take cues from how we react to things, so try to be aware of how your worry might influence their feelings about school. It’s OK if you need to take five minutes to yourself – it’s natural for all of us to have a wobble, and showing your children a positive way to deal with uncertain feelings can help them overcome theirs, too.
Talk about fears
Children often think that if they voice thoughts and fears, they’ll become more powerful or even real. Having a talk with your child about their fears is a great way to get them to open up about what’s making them feel anxious. Some children feel most comfortable in a private space with your undivided attention, and others may enjoy a distraction like kicking around a football while they talk. Wherever they feel most comfortable, it’s a great idea to find a safe space and regularly have a chat. Psst! If you need a helping hand talking to your child, check out YoungMinds – it’s a free parents' helpline with trained advisors who can talk to you about any aspect of your child's mental health. Give them a call on 0808 802 5544.
Shine a light on the positives
Anxious feelings have the power to cast a cloud over the positive things that come with change, so spending some time talking to your child about how the two work together can help them to manage uncomfortable feelings. Ask them about the things that excite them about going back to school versus the things that worry them, for example. If the positive column is looking light, add some fun into their routine – you could invent a game to make a school-related activity more exciting.
And there you have it, some tips and tricks to help keep the good vibes coming. Looking after ourselves and our children during these strange times is super important! If anxious feelings are affecting you or your child's life or wellbeing, remember that there’s always help available – have a chat with your GP or get in contact with a mental health charity like Shout or YoungMinds, who can help support you and your family over the airwaves.