Worries and fears are a normal part of child development. It’s typical for children to be a little anxious and fearful, especially when they face new experiences, people, or situations.
Most children learn to cope with their fears and worries, but for some sensitive children, anxiety not only affects how they feel but also how they learn and interact with others. When anxiety is not identified and managed in a supportive way, it can affect kids’ behaviour and have a damaging impact on their self-esteem.
As well as affecting how kids feel, anxiety can have an impact on how they think.
An anxious child can be as alert as a meerkat, constantly on the lookout for threats and perceiving the fear they’re worried about to be much greater than it actually is. Thinking about the situation can make them even more worried, and so the cycle of anxiety can cause them to spiral down.
Children who experience anxiety sometimes come up with their own strategies to manage distressing situations, but this often involves total avoidance or having a parent or other adult deal with it for them. While this may work in the short term, avoiding the situation that worries them makes it more likely that the child will feel anxious and be unable to manage it next time.
As a result, everyday stresses at home, school, and in social settings can become harder to cope with.
It may be time to seek professional help from your child’s teacher, school counselor, or child psychologist.
If you are concerned about your child’s social and emotional well-being, advice from a mental health professional could provide you and your family with the guidance, reassurance, and professional support you need.
Your child’s teacher is often a good place to begin a conversation about your child’s needs. It may be helpful to find out whether or not your son or daughter experiences the struggles you observe at school. Your child’s teacher may be able to provide some insights into factors such as play, social relationships, and the behaviours your child is demonstrating in the classroom and playground.
If you are concerned about the impact that Anxiety is having on your child, your family GP may be able to help you to decide if further investigation or treatment would be helpful. Your family doctor is also qualified to establish a Medicare plan for your child if you would like to claim rebates for support offered by qualified mental health professionals.
Mental health professionals with specific knowledge and experience working with children can work with you, your child, and your family to support your child. Some schools offer this support, and paediatric professionals working in private practices, such as Kids First Children’s Services, also provide personalised programs to help your son or daughter to overcome their anxiety.
Fortunately, there are effective treatments for anxiety and the world-renowned Cool Kids program is one evidence-based program that helps children and their parents learn strategies to manage fears and worries.
Using cognitive behavioural techniques, children learn to face their fears gradually and challenge anxious thoughts. Parents also learn about helpful ways to respond to their child’s anxiety so that everyday stresses at home, school, and in social settings become easier to cope with.
Cool Kids is offered at Kids First Children’s Services at our multi-disciplinary paediatric health centre in Sydney’s northern beaches.
Every term, this innovative small group program for children in Years 3 to 6 is facilitated by members of our experienced child psychology team. For more information, contact Kids First on (02) 9938 5419