Safe Harbour Therapy Podcast – Episode 4: Supporting an Anxious Child with Andrea Klepatz
written by Andrea Klepatz (Counselling Psychology, Clinical Social Worker) on 06/10/19
I believe that kids will do well if they can. So, my job essentially is to figure out why it is that this child is not doing well and why now? I get curious, what is getting in the way? How can I help.
Our brains work to keep us safe and anxiety is a warning that our brain is perceiving something as dangerous in our environment. It is a normal reaction, but sometimes it gets heightened for a multitude of reasons
What is anxiety and what does it look like in children? How can I tell if my child has anxiety…..
A child who perceives danger, stress or opposition may be triggered into a fight response which looks like an angry melt down and the child may not be able to communicate why they are feeling this way
Anxiety may result in a child having difficulty relaxing and falling to sleep at night or staying asleep
When children feel anxious and helpless as well as being unable to communicate their emotions, they may display actions that could be misinterpreted as defiance but is really an attempt to control the situation in order to relieve their anxious feelings (all in an unconscious way)
When a seemingly calm child suddenly flies off the handle for no reason. They may have stuffed their feelings down for so long that an innocuous event or comment can trigger a response disproportionate to the situation
Lack of Focus
A child may not pay attention to what is going on because they are so intent on their own inner thoughts that are focused on their emotional of fight flight or freeze in that moment.
A child may exert a lot of energy to avoid a certain person, place or task.
Some children try to take back control over their anxiety by over planning for situations where it is not necessary or disproportionate to the situation.
Children who experience anxiety tend to experience negative thoughts at a much greater intensity than positive ones.
When feelings of anxiety get too big for our littles, they turn to us (their safe adults) to help them regulate and calm. Calm begets calm.
Take a deep breath yourself. Share your regulation strategies with your little. Model for them how you manage your anxious feelings. Anxiety is a normal part of life; we all deal with it. How can you be helpful?
When you notice signs of anxiety in your little, here are some helpful things to say (and do)!
- “I’m here with you. You are safe”
- “Let’s dance or run or jump like a frog (you get the idea-get active) to get rid of all of that worried energy”
- “Tell me about it”
- “What can you say to your worry? What might your worry say back? Then what?”
- “Let’s draw”
- “Where do you feel worry in your body? How big is it?”
- “Let’s breathe together (help your little take deep slow breaths by modelling it for them)”
- “Let’s think up some worry endings that could happen (anxious ones, goofy ones, and realistic ones)”
- “What’s something we could do together that will help you feel better? (Cuddle, read together, go for a walk, something that your little likes to do with you)”
Remember, our kids can feel anxiety just like us adults. Their anxieties are big for them even though they may seem small to us. I encourage you to ask why is my child not doing what I think they should in this moment. Chances are, something in their environment or body is unsettling to them. If we can explore their inner state, help regulate or problem solve with them, we will increase the chances that they will be able to meet ours or their own expectations.
To learn more about how to help your child in times of distress, please reach out to Andrea (link)