In Australia 1 in 6 young people experience significant levels of anxiety. As a parent, knowing what the signs are and what you can do to help if you think your child may be suffering from anxiety is very important.
Anxiety is a ‘mood state’ characterised by apprehension and somatic symptoms of tension where the individual anticipates danger, catastrophe, or misfortune. The future threat may be real or imagined, internal or external.
Some of the more common symptoms of anxiety include:
- Extreme worry or fear
- Feeling on edge
- Poor sleep
- Difficulties making decisions
- Poor concentration
- Withdrawing from or avoiding events or people which could cause anxiety
- Physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, nausea, muscle tension, and numbness.
If you suspect your son or daughter may be experiencing anxiety, I suggest starting a conversation and offer these tips for how to frame the discussion:
- Encourage your child to talk about their anxiety and share the things that as a child you were anxious about and ask them what their biggest worry is. By modelling your own calm acceptance of anxiety you will be assisting them to remain calm about theirs.
- Teach your son or daughter about anxiety and what it is. Explain that anxiety is excessive fear and worry about lots of things or just one thing. Anxiety is normal and everyone experiences a level of anxiety throughout their lives, sometimes it is helpful other times it is overwhelming and we need to seek support.
- Encourage good eating, regular exercise, hobbies, sufficient sleep and connection with friends. When young people are well-rested and relaxed they are in a better position to handle their worries or fear.
- Visit your local health practitioner, paediatrician, or school psychologist if you suspect your son or daughter is experiencing significant levels of anxiety and requires further support.
If your child is experiencing a period of anxiety, the following strategies could be helpful:
Tip 1: Modelling
It is often helpful to put young people in environments where they can witness other young people displaying non-anxious/courageous behaviour. This could include real life situations or movies. It is important to remember that your son or daughter will also model behaviours they see you engage in at home.
Tip 2: Independence
Young people need to learn to become independent in order to overcome anxiety. They need to learn to fight their own battles sometimes, including making mistakes and learning from them. This helps increase their resilience and reduces anxious behaviour. There will be times when you are tempted to take over. Try not to give in to this temptation! Young people need a clear and consistent message that it is okay for them to face their fears and that they can do so independently.
Tip 3: Avoid giving excessive reassurance
This helps young people learn to be self-reliant in dealing with their fears, otherwise they enter feared situations because you say it is okay and not because they believe it is okay.
Tip 4: Don’t protect from consequences
If there is a natural consequence to an undesirable anxious behaviour, allow your child to experience the consequence, do not protect them from it. For example, if your son or daughter no longer wishes to attend a party make them call their friend to tell them, don’t make the phone call for them.
If you are aware that your child is experiencing a period of anxiety, discuss your concerns with the relevant support staff at your school. This could include teachers, a Housemaster or the school psychologist. A coordinated approach between home and school will ensure your child receives support and learns the strategies to help manage the anxiety.
Written by Briana Hennessy, College Counsellor, The Scots College.
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