In fact, sadly, it’s now safer to assume that childhood distress isn’t just a phase that your child will grow out of. Monitor it, take it seriously, and be ready to take action if it doesn’t appear to be improving, as the one thing that experts seem to agree on is that childhood anxiety can be the gateway to a plethora of mental health issues in life - and not just “later life”, but beginning much earlier on. Research is starkly highlighting that depression, and even suicide, is plaguing today’s youth, starting as early as the pre-teen years. Talking and communicating honestly with your children is the best way to ensure an open, trusting relationship is established, which may make all the difference in them approaching you with bigger issues weighing on them as they mature.
Severe anxiety can impact a child’s health and happiness and while some anxious children will grow out of their fears, anxiety will continue plaguing others unless they get help. Start by keeping a notebook or diary jotting down details and dates. This way, when you refer back, you’ll have a clearer idea on emerging patterns with your child, and how long you’ve held concerns for.
Supporting your anxious child
A child showing signs of anxiety can be supported by -
-Acknowledgement - don’t dismiss or ignore their anxiety.
Be a good listener. Let your child share their worries with you.
-Encourage your child to do things they’re anxious about, but don’t push hard if they’re unwilling.
-Waiting until your child actually gets anxious before stepping in. As a parent, it can be hard knowing your child gets anxious in certain situations, but give them the chance to prove you wrong and catch them only if they need catching.
-Be supportive - offer praise for doing something they’ve been anxious about.
-Avoid criticism whatever you do. Even when it’s hard to comprehend your child’s fear. It’s real to them.
-Don’t label your child as shy or anxious as they may begin to believe this is what they are.
How to know when you need extra help?
It’s not uncommon for a child to be anxious or fearful - they are small and the world is vast. It’s our job as adults to reassure them. To a point. When should you admit you’re out of your depth and seek a little extra help?
-When your child’s anxiety is stopping them from doing things they enjoy.
-If anxiety is interfering with friendships or family life.
-If you recognise that your child’s behaviour is very different from children in the same age group.
-When your child’s reactions seem particularly severe, like extreme distress.
Help is available
If you suspect that your child is experiencing anxiety, don’t feel that you’re alone. Help is available in a number of ways - from things you can do at home, to seeking assistance from professionals. Here are some suggestions.
Your child’s educator
Have a discussion with your child’s educator, or the director of the centre they attend to see if they’ve made similar observations of your child’s behaviour. They may be able to help monitor the situation when your child is in care, and can likely guide you in the right direction if they believe extra help is required.