Worry has been a safety mechanism for us throughout the evolutionary process, and has help ensure our survival. The point being, that a little bit of worry is a good thing.
The other end of the scale is a debilitating experience when we cannot think of anything but mistakes we have made or have a fear of the future that is enough to make us physically sick and interrupt our lives.
So how do we know when to worry about worry? How much is enough? And how to help foster a sense of safety without taking away our children’s ability to experience worry and instead learn to cope with it?
High anxiety can occur in approximately 1 in 10 young people, and the chances of being anxious increase significantly if they are already dealing with an ASD or ADHD diagnosis, or a learning disorder.
If compared to other children you see that your child gets worried more often, and more intensely than others, and things have persisted for some time, then it might be time to get some professional support.
Other signs to look out for include irritability, avoidance of things they might have previously enjoyed, physical complaints like a sore tummy, or comments like things being ‘boring’ or ‘stupid’, when they may in fact be difficult and your child is feeling afraid. Not wanting to go to school or see friends can be a red flag for a child experiencing anxiety.
As a parent, there are some things you can do at home to help foster a sense of resilience to things that may be worrying and help your child cope with those feelings.
Some possible ways include:
- Provide your child with a sense of control. Let them learn to make choices and deal with the consequences of that (within reason). This may mean selecting only a small number of friends to invite to a birthday party, when in the week they complete their homework, or how much to commit to after school activities.
- Allow your child to make (safe) risks that are age appropriate. For young children it may mean carrying breakable crockery or for older children it may be to walk the dog around the block by themselves.
- Help your child develop a vocabulary of emotions, and praise/encourage them to share them with you. Model the language to your children e.g. “mummy is frustrated that we are running late for school”.
- At the same time, model calming techniques for dealing with emotions. For example, show how you can take 3 big deep breaths or do some mindfulness techniques together.
- Let your child know that worry is a totally normal feeling, and together, you can cope with what comes.
- Praise the effort that your children apply, rather than the outcome. This is known to help build confidence and self-esteem rather then foster worries about under-achievement. If feedback is given, give it in a way that is constructive and has clear room for growth.
The relationship building that you do with your child will ultimately underpin these strategies. Being able to give them the confidence to believe what you say, to confide in you, and to give them the feeling of independence and competence to take on the world.
Don’t minimise the positive interactions that you have together in the big jigsaw puzzle of your child’s world. Plant the seeds of the relationship when they are 5, so they know when they are 15, that you are cheering them on.
Emily Vujicic works with adults, children and families to assist with a range of difficulties including the management of stress, anxiety, depression, school difficulties, emotional development, behavioural and parenting challenges. Experience as a School Psychologist has helped her develop an understanding of the challenges that can be experienced by school aged children, and the feelings and behaviours that can develop.