The Anxious Child: The Impact and How to Talk to Your Child

This week (May 2nd to 8th) is national Mental Health Week. The initiative is meant to encourage people to talk about, learn about and reflect on issues in the area of mental health. For mental health week we will be doing a series of posts on childhood anxiety.

This is the second post in a series of posts on childhood anxiety.

Anxiety can impact people in different ways but there are some general commonalities for understanding how anxiety works.

Anxiety BC calls this the ABCs of Anxiety and they are as follows:

  • A = Affect: this can be emotional and physical. For children physical symptoms are common because children can more easily identify them (see source at bottom for examples)
  • B =Behaviour: the biggest them in behaviour when a child is experiencing anxiety is avoidance, usually of the thing that is causing them distress
  • C = Cognition: basically this refers to the thought processes of worrying
  • D = Dependence: simply, anxious children depend on their parents far more than the same aged peers without anxiety. They seek reassurance and comfort from their parents
  • E = Excessive and Extreme: worry is over the top. It is out of proportion to amount of threat in the situation
  • F = Functioning: anxiety when severe can get in the way of daily tasks.

Children, especially younger ones may not know that what they are experiencing is anxiety, and this can lead to further distress. It can be helpful to talk to your child about what they experiencing and anxiety and to help them figure out how to regulate these emotions.

Here are some steps suggested by Anxiety BC to help communicate with your child about anxiety:

  1. Encourage your child to open up about worries and fears: start by describing a recent situation in which you observed some anxious behaviour and ask your child about the behaviour and situation. Try to sympathize and understand that even if your child’s fear/worry seems irrational, it is real to them.
  2. Teach your child about anxiety: This can look different for different age groups and levels of anxiety, but the basic goal is to explain to your child some of the information in the previous posts. Tell them what anxiety is, how it affects them, and how to identify it.
  3. Help Your Child Recognize Anxiety: Lastly, help your child figure out how to notice when they are feeling anxious and to develop some strategies to help them calm down in those situations. This is specific to each child and may take some practice to identify “triggers” that elevate anxiety, and things that help a child come down to a more calm state. This can be things like breathing exercises, counting exercises, or activities at the end of the day that help them decompress like kid’s yoga or reading with a parent.



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