In my private practice and my Camhs role, I work with parents who have misunderstandings about Anxiety. Anxiety is a normal and natural feeling and everyone experiences from time to time. It is a symptom of fear and can be explained with some simple neuroscience. So you can listen to my video or read on for a much more detailed explanation.
What Causes Anxiety?
What’s different in children?
Children’s brains are born undeveloped. To manage the amygdala response, they need to develop bottom up connections to their higher rational mind, the cerebral cortex, and hippocampus. This means that they will feel it so much more than adults but I am sure that you and I still come a cropper with our amygdala response. Connections are made through experiences with you and their environment until they develop connections in the higher brain. (The cerebral cortex is responsible for higher thought processes including speech, memory, reflective capacity, and in addition positive memories in the hippocampus.
Normal Childhood Fears
Even in the best of situations your baby, toddler and teen suffer from anxiety from time to time. Babies feel separation anxiety between 6-9 months. Toddlers to middle childhood feel dread, apprehension fear, or distress when faced with new situations, being separate from you, taking tests, be frightened of the dark, dogs, monsters, and ghosts. As they grow older and continue to develop their cognitive capacity, they become more conscious of their peers. They can become more preoccupied with social acceptance, academic and physical performance. All these fears are perfectly normal, they may need you more at those times. They can move on with these fears with no lasting effects.
What can you do to help?
- Give it a name and explain the anxiety response, it does not need to be complicated, let them know it is a normal response.
- They may express anxiety by in physical symptoms such as tummy aches, headaches, self-harm, skin picking and pulling hair, so explain it may be about anxiety
- Help your child by teaching them feeling words.
- Accepting, empathising, and validating your child’s worries.
- Listening to worries with full attention and gently help them to distinguish between fact and fears.
- Teach them to breathe and mindfulness.
- Asking them what you can do to help them feel safe.
- Patiently encouraging your child to face the situation one step at a time and repeatedly so they feel safe and the situation becomes less anxiety-provoking. Here is my ladder of success to help.
You need to be concerned when your child’s worry is impacting their functioning. You may notice your child:
- Excessive worry most days of the week, for weeks on end
- Your child seems tense and unrelaxed for most of the time
- Has a lot of physical symptoms?
- They engage in endlessly repetitive behaviours such as checking and washing.
- They avoid social situations or other normal day to day activities.
- The normal developmental fear is age inappropriate.