Can you help a child to feel less anxious

I am often asked by worried parents if there are ways of easing their child’s concerns.  Can you stop a child worrying about starting school?  Can you make them more inclined to run off and play at the park?  Or to separate from you with ease at nursery?  In short, can you help your child feel less anxious?

Anxiety is our bodies way of recognising danger and, through triggering the fight-flight-or-fright responses, getting us back to safety.  Felt in its proper place, anxiety, is perfectly normal.  It can become a serious problem however when it becomes uncontrolled.  Or if it seems constant, or it is affecting daily life. 

Anxiety hormones ensure you concentrate on a threat.  But triggered too often, or for too long will cause serious problems

For children, the difficult behaviours triggered by a perceived threat can become a learnt response.  This will see them become accustomed to heightened levels of anxiety.  And as their body fights to remove these excessive stress hormones, they will exist for long periods in a hypersensitive state. 

If your child frequently feels anxious, you are unlikely to remove stress from their life.  But you can help them to recognise their level of anxiety.  And you can give them the space and techniques they need to manage it.  The earlier you start the better, but first you need to be aware of any emotions you yourself maybe triggering.

If you feel stressed around your children, they will struggle to feel at ease or secure in your care

So, before you try to help your children manage their anxiety, you need to have a handle on your own. 

This means recognising what may be triggering anxieties.  And finding ways of easing this before they become a problem.  Are there times and situations that make matters worse?  Such as mealtimes, sleep times or leaving the house?  Are these experienced with a sense of being rushed or panicked?

As your child gets older, help them recognise their own triggers and support them to voice their fears. 

As your child gets older, talk through their anxieties with them.  Help them to identify what they can alter and what they cannot.  And as you help them recognise and face the reality of a situation, exploring what this really means.  How bad would it be if this happened?  How likely is it to happen? Could I, or should I, do something about it?

Children do not have a well-developed sense of time.  This means that they will struggle to imagine a time when they won’t feel this bad.  So help bring them back to happier times as you remember positive experiences and anticipate future ones. 

The more we feel any mood, the more it becomes a part of the character traits we are developing. 

Negative moods also tend to narrow our focus, causing a sense of isolation that feels like we are alone.  Unmanaged, your child may feel invisible, voiceless or that no one cares.  By recognising this, you can avoid this becoming a deep-rooted part of their character.  Something that may stay with them into their teenage years and beyond.

Happiness is all about finding pleasure, engagement and meaning in our lives.  If you are looking to help a child to feel less anxious, try thinking beyond the pleasure an experience might bring.  Instead, consider how engaging it might be.  Or the meaning that it might hold.

We cannot always control what happens to us, but we can affect how we respond.  Especially when we recognise how important it is to do so.  So, support your child as they find their own happiness, rather than being fed expectations of happiness from others.  Do this and you will establish a foundation for positive outcomes and general well-being that will last throughout their lives.

This session is taken from our course: The Happy Child

Dr Kathryn Peckham is an Early Childhood Consultant, author and researcher and the founder of Nurturing Childhoods.  Providing all the knowledge, understanding and support you need to nurture your growing child.


Don’t miss:

Five top experiences to ready your child for the classroom 

Embracing all your child’s emotions – even more dramatic ones

The Summer Play Series: Nurturing children to be brave