- Separation anxiety - Fear of being separated from their parent or primary care giver. Often with this form of anxiety children are viewed as being 'clingy' and can talk about fears of something bad happening to their parents or themselves.
- Social anxiety - Children will avoid social situations or interaction with others, worrying about being negatively evaluated by others.
- Generalised anxiety - Fears that are excessive and relate to most aspects of their life.
Some of the ways anxiety may present in your anxious child:
- Excessive worrying thoughts that are upsetting.
- Physical symptoms such as tummy pains, headaches or muscle tension.
- Emotional upset or anger.
- Disturbed sleep and complaints of nightmares.
- Poor concentration and attention.
- Avoidance or school refusal.
The good news is that anxiety can be managed through therapy to learn how to decrease those worrying thoughts, but you as a parent or caregiver can also help your anxious child by teaching them to calm down and relax their bodies and minds. One technique that you can teach to your anxious child to help them relax is Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR).
Often when we experience worrying thoughts and events our bodies will respond with muscle tension. This tension we feel can be uncomfortable making it difficult to relax and even go to sleep at night.
PMR is the process of scrunching up different muscle groups for a few seconds and then releasing the tension. This is done in part so that we can identify the areas that we hold the most tension and also so that we can distinguish between tension and relaxation.
Here are some basics you can try to help your child using Progressive Muscle Relaxation:
- Have your child find a comfortable position in a seat or lying down.
What to say:
"Take some deep calming breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth...
Imagine your tummy is a big balloon and when you breathe in the big balloon is filling with air, and as you breathe out, the air is slowly escaping and the balloon becomes small again.
Now...squeeze your toes and feet into a tight ball... hold this... (five seconds)... now relax...let them go loose.
Tighten the muscles in your legs by pointing your toes...hold the muscles tight...(wait five seconds)... now let go and feel your legs go as loose as cooked spaghetti.
Let's focus on your tummy now. Tense the muscles in your tummy by squeezing it in... hold this... (wait five seconds)...now relax...notice how good your body feels.
Lift your shoulders as high as you can, bringing them up to your ears...hold this... (wait five seconds)...now relax....breathe in.... and breathe out...
Next you can tense your arms and hands, by stretching them forward and tightening your hands into a tight ball, like you are squeezing a lemon...hold this... (wait five seconds)...now let your arms go floppy like cooked spaghetti...notice how relaxed they feel...
Let's move to your face...tense your face by scrunching up your whole face...wrinkle it up as hard as you can...hold this... (wait five seconds)...now relax.
Take another deep, calming breath in through your nose and out through your mouth...
When you are ready, gently open your eyes and notice how good and calm your body feels."
The following resources can further assist your child to relax using Progressive Muscle Relaxation:
Melissa supports primary and secondary school aged young people who experience emotional dysregulation, reduced self-esteem and self worth and who have difficulties at school. She is dedicated to working in partnership with educators and parents to ensure those closest to young people have the necessary skills and resources to support them.