The Anxious Child
Parenting an anxious child can be heartbreaking and difficult. It can be tricky to know what to say for the best, and how to approach days when your child is finding everything too much.
We consulted our Spurgeons parenting expert about what life is like for an anxious child, and how you can help them.
This insightful account of what it is like to parent an anxious child has been written by Spurgeons Parent Support Worker Leonie Vickers from her own lived experience. The account highlights the need for greater understanding of the realities of living with mental health issues in the home:
A day in the life of the anxious child
By Leonie Vickers
First task: 6.40am – 8.50am
It’s the battle of waking to get out of bed every morning. The struggle to find the energy to get dressed. The refusing to get dressed. It is the terrifying wonder of what today will bring, then comes the sheer panic of being late for school.
Second hurdle: 9.00am – 3.15pm
The fear of walking into a crowded room turns her belly and feels her with almighty adrenaline waiting to burst. ‘They’ come to peel her away, screaming, fighting with fear of the thought of being separated from mum.
She tries her best to focus on the task set but the uncertainty of what is to come causes a grinding pain in her belly. She knows she can do the task but the MONSTER that lives in her belly has climbed up and is shouting at her. She is overcome with terror and the only way to stop it is to SCREAM at the top of her lungs.
The heartache when friends run from her, or whisper. Feeling so alone despite being surrounded by people who care. The questioning of “why am I so different from the other girls?” The wanting to be ‘perfect’ but disappointment in thinking she’s not, oblivious to how much she’s cared for.
Third challenge: 3.15pm – 7pm
To get relief from the day she’s had she curls up and hides her feet under mum’s top as though something is after her. The look of sheer terror and tears in her eyes. The deep, dark, frightening pictures she draws over and over. At last, the calm, fun, playful girl is released as she relaxes without any worries, and some normality resumes until mum says goodnight…
Bedtime: 7pm – 8pm
That’s when ‘IT’ happens. That’s when/where all the fears come into play, her body gives in to sleep eventually but no matter how much she tries to switch off these vivid hallucinations of thought, she just can’t. Her mind is awake, but she is unable to move any limb, completely numb, she can feel something coming towards her, and tries to scream out for mum but her voice will not come out! The tears run down her face and sweat through her pores. A few minutes pass which feels like forever, then her body wakes.
She is now able to scream and cries hard running straight for the bedroom door to find mum, and the same exhausting regime of calming starts again. Finally mum lays next to her for reassurance and it is now she is able to drift off safely…
How can parents support and help a child with anxiety?
‘As a parent it is incredibly hard watching your child go through such sad, overwhelming issues,’ says Leonie. ‘As a child I suffered with anxiety myself and remember the crippling stomach cramps I had when a change was occurring, the pounding heartbeat that was so strong it was deafening.’
For an adult sufferer, the cause of anxiety might be clear, but trying to figure out your child’s is a challenge. Leonie eventually tried a Spurgeons’ Parent Support Group, and found strategies to cope. ‘The support from the other mums in the group has been immense,’ she says.
Leonie found that spraying her daughter’s room with lavender and clearing a lot of toys from her room helped.
Our Spurgeons’ Parenting Lead, Nicola Baldwin, also shared some great advice with us for supporting anxious children:
Create ‘worry time’ every day
‘It’s best for it not to do this before bed if possible, but either way provide time each day that is allocated for you to discuss with them any concerns, and suggest solution-building ideas,’ suggests Nicola.
Talk to the school
Nicola suggests it’s helpful to let your child’s school know that they have anxiety, and also make sure you’re notified before any changes happen so you can prepare your child- e.g. school events etc.
Stick a timetable up
A timetable of what is happening on school days and weekends pinned up on the fridge will provide your child with prior warning of events so that they know what’s coming. You can also do the same for their daily routine- everything from getting dressed to eating lunch.
Acknowledge and validate their feelings
‘Take their anxieties as real,’ advises Nicola, ‘Even if they seem silly things- it might be a friendship group or a certain teacher.’ You can address these issues with the school and talk about what makes a good friend at home.
Allow for chill-out time after school
While it’s tempting to gather information on the school day as soon as they come home, give them a breather first. ‘When they arrive, greet them with a ‘how are you, I missed you!’’ says Nicola. ‘Rather than grilling them immediately, allow them to decompress first.’
Anxiety is ok! Everybody gets worried from time to time and that’s ok. It’s important to normalise these emotions for children to show them that they don’t have to feel scared when these feelings arise.
To help your child understand what is going on for them, talk through what their worry is. Don’t dismiss their worry, no matter how trivial you think it might be.
If your child’s worries persist our Spurgeons counsellors are ready to help. Have you been thinking about counselling for your child, but don’t know where to start, explore the links below.