Does your child worry too much?
Worrying is a common thing, and as parents, we often spend half our lives thinking more about what if’s than the actual doing. But that is life as a parent. There is, however, a difference to worrying and anxiety, and for any adult who has experienced or is experiencing anxiety, can agree that the worrying can lead you to miss out on an awful lot if it is not managed. The same goes for children.
There are many different types of anxiety that can be experienced. Today’s article will focus on generalised anxiety.
What does anxiety look like in children?
For the anxious child, the world can feel much heavier both emotionally and physically than most children. Anxiety is an extreme and persistent worry, anxious children will experience thoughts that center around some type of danger or threat and it can severely affect their daily living both at home and in school.
It’s proven that ‘one in every fourteen young Australians (aged 4-17) have experienced an anxiety disorder’. Common symptoms can include panic attacks, attempts to avoid certain situations as well as physical fear reactions (sweating, rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing etc). They may also experience physical symptoms such as stomach ache, headache, vomiting, diarrhoea and tiredness.
A child who is experiencing anxiety will feel physically ‘pumped up’ often referred to the ‘fight or flight’ response because its purpose is to protect and prepare for combat or escape potential danger. When a child is anxious they may freeze, fidget, pace, cry, cling.
Why is my child anxious?
Hence, there is little doubt that anxiety runs in families and often times a parent will stop and notice a pattern between them and their child. (hands up… me!)
Just like some of us are tall and some of us are short – we are all different and different is good! The same can be said with regards to personality. Some people are more emotionally sensitive than other people and with that comes positives along with negatives.
Plus side: They are likely to be more caring, kind, honest and loving.
Negative side: Their emotions can lead them to likely worry more, brood, feel down and be fearful.
How can I help my child?
Perspective. Patience. Persistence.
Children living with anxiety need a safe place and often times that place are their parents/caretakers. After a long and tiring day trying to manage all these emotions, an anxious child will need our patience and understanding. They need us to help stop the troubling thoughts spinning around, to help them get rid of the feeling of dread that wells up within them. They need us to help them feel calm, happy and safe!
They come to us because they know we say the right things and know that we love them unconditionally. As parents, our reaction plays a big part. On one hand we, of course, want to comfort and protect our children but on the other hand, we want to give our children the needed skills so that they can handle this fear and push past it. We want them to be able to tell themselves that they can handle this situation and that the world isn’t scary.
So, what is considered the right thing to do?
Well there’s no such thing as the perfect parents (unfortunately when we become a parent it doesn’t come with a manual – just LOTS of conflicting advice)! But, there are things we can do to minimise that stress and anxiety, which will make a powerful difference to their feelings.
When you’re worrying, we know it’s hard to think back to where everything was okay and it takes a lot of practice to notice when your mind’s wandering off. You just need to focus on something else to bring it back. What’s in your eyesight? What’s in your hands? The minute you change your mind to focus to something else and bring the attention back to the moment, the easier it will be.
One example is using the Notice, Unhook, Return and Repeat method to help calm your anxious child.
Now let’s talk about anxiety goggles. What are they?
Anxiety goggles is a term used to describe how kids look around them. If you take off your goggles it looks a whole lot clearer than putting them on. Now, how good would it feel if we could help our kids take them off and get them to realise that everything is okay?
You and your child should learn to look and analyse your thoughts and see why you’re are experiencing this, rather than worrying and getting afraid. This will help to develop metacognitive skills (thought notice process). Therefore, when minds wonder and get ‘lost in thought’, you’ll notice and won’t jump to the worries and troubles stage.
What are ways to help?
There are many ways to teach thought noticing to kids. Every family will be different, so experiment with what suits you and your family. If one idea isn’t quite right, choose another.
🌟 Rethink what you’re saying. If your child says they’re terrible or useless at something, instead of replying ‘of course you’re not’ or ‘you’re just being silly’, try asking your child if what they’re saying is helpful to their situation. A simple, yet powerful question. When they say no, offer ways of support. Ask ‘Shall we practice more together?’ ‘Shall we get outside support i.e. a tutor?’ This will calm your child down and help to develop a growth mindset. They will start to learn that not everything is perfect, and that’s okay, but there are ways to fix problems.
🌟 What can you hear? Lay down side by side with your child. Take a couple of minutes to listen to your surrounding sounds, what can you hear? When you’re finished, talk to your child about what each of your heard. Talk about how your mind wandered during this time and how that’s normal – it’s called daydreaming. Flow this into a conversation of how you are both feeling.
🌟 Tell me more.. Everyday conversations are great for metacognition. However, it’s all about asking the right questions and not being too pushy, otherwise your child will shut off. Ask ‘Can you tell me more about why you think that’ or ‘why do you think you got so upset?’ ‘why do you think you’re putting off doing exercise?’ ‘How will you know when you feel better?
🌟 Name your mind. Make your child feel like it not their mind, so it open up opportunities to have constructive conversations with different questions. It lets them have a view of themselves e.g. If your mind’s name is Sophie, you can say ‘what is Sophie thinking?’
🌟 Reflection – This is a good thing to do after a panic attack, meltdown or outburst has just occurred. When they’re finally calmed down, take some time to analyse. Ask questions like ‘what did your mind say to make you so upset?’ ‘Can you tell me what made you so angry/upset?’
Metacognition techniques helps kids be more positive, resilient and increase their abilities to problem solve because they are less likely to get caught up in worries.
How does MyFirstGym help?
MyFirstGym provides a safe and familiar place for kids to release energy and endorphins. It’s also a place that offers a wide variety of different activities and sports all under the same environment which reduces the anxiety of having to come to a new facility for each of the sports/activities your child wants to participate in.
Increased motivation – with the art of attracting children to our facilities, programs and coaches from their first session all the way to maintaining frequent visits.
Increased confidence – giving our kids confidence is an important ingredient in MyFirstGym. We do this by providing a positive environment, with the right mix of progression and repetition, helping kids master skills and continue to be challenged/ grow.
Increased competence – the ability for children to master programs and experience a wide range of disciplines that set them up for a fit and healthy lifestyle and be able to express themselves in and out of our facilities.
These principals are the 3 components that make up Physical Literacy and MyFirstGym. We consider ourselves best placed to provide these to kids which which will aid in their ability to move through tough times and provide a strong foundation against anxiety and mental health.