How To Help Your Child Deal With Anxiety – Part Twoby Dr Emma Gray - 19th September, 2014
In the first part of How to Help Your Child Deal with Anxiety we tackled the thoughts that lead to anxiety. Here we address the physical symptoms of anxiety and ways of coping with anxiety that might make things worse.
1. Reduce Their Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety results in a range of uncomfortable and distressing physical symptoms including breathlessness, dizziness, racing heart, nausea and sweating. These symptoms can be so unpleasant that some children get anxious about becoming anxious.
Teaching them some skills to reduce these symptoms can bring them relief and also build their confidence in their ability to cope, which will have a (positive) knock on effect on their anxiety.
Breathing can have a powerful effect on how we feel and using a technique called Diaphragmatic Breathing can quickly reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety. Below is a child-friendly version of this technique:
· Breath in slowly through your nose for the count of 2
· Breath out slowing through your mouth for the count of 2
· Breath in slowly through your nose for the count of 3
· Breath out slowing through your mouth for the count of 3
· Breath in slowly through your nose for the count of 4
· Breath out slowing through your mouth for the count of 4
Another technique to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety is Progressive Muscular Relaxation. This technique involves working slowing through the body from the feet up to the head, tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups (e.g. feet, leg, bottom, stomach shoulders, neck, arms, hands, face).
The idea is that learning the difference between tension and relaxation in the body allows you to switch one off (tension) and the other on (relaxation) whenever you need to. Practice this exercise with the child at least twice a day, once in the morning and then again before bed so that they become skilled at it and can use it whenever they feel anxious.
2. Build Their Confidence in What They Are Capable of
We are programmed (by evolution) to run or hide from danger, so we often cope with anxiety by avoiding it. If your child is coping in this ways it is important to find a balance between making them face head on what they perceive to be a danger situation and not allowing them the opportunity to find out that what they fear does not occur and to develop the confidence in their ability to cope with challenges.
So once you have identified your child’s avoidance, sit down with them and work out a plan to support them to face it in a graded way by breaking it down into manageable steps. Practice each step on your hierarchy until your child feels confident enough to move on to the next one. Also, keep in mind that you are asking your child to face something they perceive as very dangerous so reward them for every step, they are being very brave.
If your child is avoiding school (commonly known as ‘school refusal’) it is advisable to seek help from a Clinical Psychologist or Counselling Psychologist who will be able to devise an individualised therapy programme to help your child gradually return to a normal school routine.
To recap the first part of this article, click below to navigate.