A guide for parents and carers
If your child is experiencing high levels of anxiety, it can be worrying for you as a parent or carer. We hope this information will help you understand anxiety more clearly and begin to address it. There are many things that can be done to help your child, and yourself, to deal with this common but distressing experience.
What does anxiety look and feel like?
being irritable, angry, tearful, avoidant, oppositional, withdrawn
dry mouth, loss of appetite, going to the loo more, headaches, sweating, difficulty breathing, tight chest, problems
getting to sleep or staying asleep
being forgetful, disorganised, confused, loss of concentration
feeling on edge, wanting to escape, feeling out of control, everything speeding up, feeling people are looking at you
What’s happening in our body when we’re anxious?
When we experience anxiety, our bodies are often producing higher levels of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These are chemicals in our body which are normally released to help us react quickly to something or get away from something dangerous – for our ancestors this might have been a wild animal, a bear perhaps. This is often called the ‘fight or flight’ response. When something causes us to feel anxious these chemicals build up in our body, but don’t necessarily get used up (because there aren’t many bears about these days). This build-up of chemicals can result in unpredictable and sometimes explosive reactions.
What can be the impact of anxiety?
Anxiety can get in the way of what we think are normal day to day actions. It can impact the parts of the brain which help us with things like memory, understanding language and other communication, and what we call ‘executive functioning’. This means things like planning ahead, doing tasks in the right order and making reasoned decisions can become much harder. A child’s reaction to anxiety can sometimes be mistaken for poor or disruptive behaviour, which can mean we miss the emotional response behind the behaviours. Parents and carers often find it hard to understand the logic of their children’s behaviour and the choices they make, especially during adolescence. In these years, the brain is geared more towards emotional and social responses – for example getting approval from their friends and peers – than ‘logical’ responses. So don’t feel you need to understand the logic; be more prepared to ask ‘how can I help?’.
Practical ideas for your child
Helping your child recognise physical cues can be useful for identifying when anxiety levels may be rising and you may need some coping strategies. At a calm moment ask them what it feels like for them.
Practical ideas for you
Remember, as well as ideas to support your child you should also think about how you can support yourself.
Supporting children returning to school (parents & carers)
Guidance for parents and carers on how to help your child prepare to go back to schoolView resource
Coping with self-harm resource
This guide includes information on the nature and causes of self-harm and how to support a young person for parents and carersView resource
Asking for help
Tips for young people on when it’s time to talk about their mental health, or if they want to help a friendView resource
Wellbeing Action Plan (child)
A simple, resource to help young people keep themselves well and get them through difficult timesView resource
Warning signs poster
A bold A3 poster showing the warning signs that tell you when someone may be depressed. This poster could save a life.View resource
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