Just to be clear, I’m not about to tell anyone how to parent their children.
I’m not a qualified professional and everything I write about is through lived experience, research and information that I pick up along the way, and something that I think is super important is how mental illness in children is managed.
I’m living proof that the right diagnosis, understanding, treatment and early intervention are vital. I was about seven when my parents first took me to the doctors and I was told I had anxiety. If you think that children can’t experience mental health challenges, they absolutely can.
This is something I’m really passionate about and I’m very fortunate in that one of my closest friends is a primary school teacher. We talk about this kind of stuff a lot. It’s a key part of her job, and a key interest of mine.
This current lockdown Covid-19 situation is daunting for everybody, old and young. I’m interested particularly in how this sudden change of lifestyle impacts the development of children in terms of germs, hand washing, social distancing measures and home learning, so I had a chat with my lovely teacher friend.
We discussed how there is probably going to be a surge in anxiety amongst children and my pal anticipates a lot of PSHE lessons when school resumes, to help children to process, understand and grow in spite of what the world has been dealing with.
I’m not going to tell you what to do with your children. That would be shitty. I even thought about putting some activities and ideas in here focused on children’s wellbeing during this weird time but I decided against it because like I said, I don’t want to come across like I’m telling anyone how to parent. I’m not a parent. But I am somebody who understands the impact of mental health difficulties for children and how catching them early in life can help to create a more mentally-healthy adulthood.
Signs and symptoms of anxiety in children
Often, the symptoms experienced by children can be quite similar to those experienced by adults, but there are some that are more specific to children, too. Tummy aches are a big one! When you look at this list you might think ‘well, all children do that’ – and they probably do. And it’s normal to feel worried about things from time to time (just like adults), but it’s when things become more consistent or interfere with daily life that may show signs of anxiety.
- Lack of focus
- Trouble eating
- Trouble sleeping
- Night terrors
- Wetting the bed
- Consistent nausea
- Being clingy
- Tummy trouble
- Thinking negatively/constant worrying (‘but what if…?’)
- Anger and irritability
- Outbursts which may seem uncontrollable
- Lacking confidence or self-esteem
What to do if your child shows signs of anxiety
- Talk and encourage healthy expression of worries (if talking doesn’t come naturally, try a worry box to then discuss)
- Try not to reinforce avoidance (e.g ‘ok you don’t have to do it’) – instead, talk, support and encourage to help children feel capable to face what they’re worried about with a plan
- Try to avoid frustration and anger which is likely to fuel anxious thoughts or behaviours
- Research to increase your understanding of what your child may be experiencing if you haven’t experienced it yourself
- If the child is old enough to understand, explain what anxiety is in a simplified way and explain how it comes and passes again (this can help to create an ‘it’s just anxiety’) feeling and avoid panic. This can also help children to recognise when they’re feeling anxious and encourage conversation and understanding in place of frustration and outbursts
- If sleep is a problem, implement healthy and positive sleep routines (e.g listening to an audiobook, reading together, meditation or sleep stories with an app like Calm
- If the anxieties relate to something specific (e.g a bereavement, separation) find books designed for children relating to these issues
- Explain that soon there will be a day where we go back to school and see our friends every day and do all of the things that we did before, and decide if you need to create a plan about this if there is increased anxiety about returning to ‘normal’
- Try to simplify conversations around the virus if/when it comes up – maybe the world has a cold right now, lots of people are feeling ‘poorly’ so everyone needs a break etc. Try not to stress the importance too much of it being ‘unsafe’ outside or to see others
- Try not to become anxious yourself, especially if your child experiences panic – we feed off each other’s reactions
- Seek help if you need to with organisations like Young Minds or CAMHS