Helping Your Child With Anxiety
If your child is struggling with anxiety, here are some ways you can support them and places you can get help.
How can I help my child?
All children and young people get anxious at times, and this is a normal part of their development as they grow up and develop their ‘survival skills’, so they can face challenges in the wider world. We all have different levels of stress we can cope with - some people are just naturally more anxious than others, and are quicker to get stressed or worried. There are many ways you can help your child to manage their anxiety.
If you feel your child’s anxiety is not getting any better or is getting worse, and your efforts have not worked, contact your GP to get professional support.
These are things that can really make a difference:
- Talk to your child about anxiety, what is happening in their body and why it happens. Many children and young people don’t know what they are feeling when they are anxious, and it can be very frightening and overwhelming. They might even think they are very ill or that they are having a heart attack.
- Help them to recognise anxious feelings so they can tell when they are becoming anxious and can ask for help.
- Tell your child it will be okay, and the anxiety will pass. It can be helpful to describe the anxiety as a wave to ride or surf that gets smaller after it peaks.
- Get your child to breathe deeply and slowly, in through their nose for three counts and out through their mouth for three counts.
- Distract them by focusing on something else, and get them to apply distraction techniques. Older children may be able to manage this themselves.
- Give them a cuddle or hold their hand if they will let you - touch can be soothing.
- It can help to talk to your child about finding a safe place in their mind - somewhere that they feel relaxed and happy. It may be a grandparent’s or friend's house or a holiday beside the sea which they can picture when ‘wrong thoughts’ come into their head or they are feeling anxious. Sometimes holding a memento, like a seashell or pebble, can help.
- If your child is feeling the need to check things or repeat certain actions, suggest they count up to 10 before doing the checking action as a delaying tactic. This website has some good ideas.
- Encourage your child to notice what makes them anxious. Talking it through can help but your child could also try keeping a diary or a ‘worry book’.
- Make a 'worry box'. Your child can write each worry down and post it in the box out of sight. Small children will enjoy decorating the box too. They can leave the worries in there for, say, a week to see if they were worth worrying about (if not they can be torn up). Alternatively, you could designate a specific 'worry time' for around 10 or 20 minutes, (but not too close to bedtime, or when the child is in bed), so worries can be saved up for that time. This gives the message that we are in control of their worries and not vice versa.
- Work on positive-thinking. Name their worst case scenarios and think through together how to sort out the situation if it happens, e.g. ‘I’m worried that we’ll miss the bus.’ ‘What do you think we could do if that happens?’ ‘We could get the next bus’.
- Help them maintain a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise to reduce the levels of stress hormones, good sleeping habits, calm bedtime routines, limited screen or computer time in the evening, and a healthy diet.
Where can I get help?
- Call us for free 0808 802 5544 (Mon-Fri 9:30 - 16:00).
- Available in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
- Support for people struggling with panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and other related anxiety disorders.
- Also provides support for carers of sufferers.
- Helpline: 0844 967 4848 (Daily 10:00–22:00). Charges apply.
- Youth Helpline for 13-20 year olds: 0330 606 1174 (Mon-Fri 15:00–18:00). Charges apply.
- Having a panic attack? Crisis Number with recording of a breathing technique: 01952 680835 (24 hours)
- The national charity that provides support and information to anybody affected by OCD.
- Helpline: 0845 390 6232 (Mon - Fri 09:30-17:00)
- Email: [email protected]
Triumph over Phobia (TOP UK)
- The OCD and Phobia Charity runs a network of self help therapy groups.
- Anxiety UK is a national charity with local services all over the UK. The website includes resources for parents concerned about their child’s anxiety.