Children and young people feel worried and anxious, just the same as adults. There are different worries that affect different ages, many of them a normal part of growing up.
From around 0-3 years it is common for children to display separation anxiety. This is a normal stage of child development, when children cry and become clingy when separated from their parents or carers. Children tend to ease out of this around 3 years of age.
During pre-school years it is very common for children to develop fears and phobias, these can include fears of storms, animals, the dark, water or heights. Again, these fears usually go away on their own.
Throughout their young life there may be several occasions when a child may feel anxious; going to a new school, meeting new people or before tests or exams. Some children appear prone to worry more than others; some find it difficult to deal with change. Parental support is often enough to help children address their feelings. However, signs that a child may need extra support in dealing with anxiety include:
- problems sleeping, having bad dreams or wetting the bed
- lacking any confidence to try new things
- being prone to angry outbursts
- having difficulty concentrating
- having negative thoughts, or a continued feeling that bad things are about to happen
- avoiding normal activities; such as meeting friends or going to school
The first step is to talk with children, and reassure them that their feelings are both very common and understandable. If the child is old enough it may also help to explain what anxiety is and how it affects the body. Try to find solutions to any problems together, and help the child to recognise the signs for anxiety within themselves.
Regular routines are reassuring for children, so try to stick to daily activities to reduce anxiety. If changes are coming up, such as moving house, explain this to them first. Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and counting to three, may also provide some relief.
If a child or young person’s anxiety is beginning to affect their wellbeing then they may need help to overcome it. If unaddressed some anxieties may persist into adulthood. Visiting the GP is the best place to start. It is also worth considering talking to the child’s school if anxiety is affecting their school life too.