Anxiety is a natural process for the mind to process troubles and problems in our lives. But when anxiety starts to become overwhelming, it is positive to have some processes in place to overcome anxiety and develop coping mechanisms to deal with them. We have listed some helpful information about children and teenagers with anxiety for parents and teachers.
Children with anxiety
Anxiety is a common behaviour in children as they work to find their place in the world. It’s a natural part of our survival instinct and contributes to that all important ‘fight or flight’ mechanism. While it’s imperative for our brain and body to remain alert in order to deal with impending danger, too much anxiety can be debilitating. Children often learn to cope with fear of the unknown, but, according to Beyond Blue Australia, they may need support if they appear to be feeling more anxious than other children of a similar age, if their anxiety stops them participating in activities at school or socially, if their anxiety interferes with their ability to do things that other children their age can do, [and/or] their fears and worries seem out of proportion to the issues in their life (Beyond Blue). Anxiety in children can present physical symptoms such as sleepless nights, stomach aches, diarrhoea and headaches, difficulty concentrating, and being tired and irritable. Sometimes when children are left to develop their own coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety, they may use an avoidance strategy or rely on an adult to deal with their issues for them. These solutions are not ideal in the long term. Avoiding situations can lead to troubles socialising, keeping up at school and lack of ability to deal with stress later.
Teenagers with anxiety
School, social settings, family trauma and bodily changes can all contribute to anxiety in teenagers. But, what constitutes normal anxiety and coping mechanisms in teens, compared to anxiety that may need to be treated? If a teenager is struggling to keep their anxiety under control, then they need support. Like younger children, they are working to develop coping mechanisms, but overwhelming anxiety will need some form of intervention. Signs of anxiety in teenagers can be a racing heart, butterflies in the stomach, shakiness, or nausea, obsessing over things, and/or losing sleep. Overthinking situations is a common trait of anxiety in teens, as is irrational and negative thought. While it’s natural to want to avoid situations that can make us feel bad, it’s important for teens to find strategies to cope with anxiety in order to set themselves up for success in the future.
Tips for parents
According to Viorel Lupu and Felicia Iftene in their journal article, The Impact Of Rational Emotive Behaviour Education On Anxiety In Teenagers, “Anxiety disorders are among the most frequent psychiatric disorders among children and teenagers”, especially in the 21stcentury. Beyond Blue tells us we can recognise the signs of anxiety in children and teenagers. They say children and teens might “seek reassurance often, avoid situations they feel worried or scared about, try to get others to do the things they are worried about, tell you they have physical pains, have lots of fears, get upset easily, cling to you, [not] want to get ready for school, [not] go to sleep without a parent or other adult, cry over small things, complain about being picked on a lot or always see the dangerous or negative side of things” (Beyond Blue). In order to help, it’s crucial to recognise these symptoms and, rather than do things for the child, show them some coping mechanisms. Seek support from a counsellor, the child’s teachers, or a psychologist, develop problem solving skills for your child with your child so they are a part of their own treatment and the success of it, teach your child resilience and encourage them to try things that are giving them anxiety – the sense of achievement when an obstacle is conquered is confidence building and one of the best strategies there is! And most importantly, don’t assume the problem will go away on its own. Anxiety can develop into much more serious mental health concerns if it goes unsupported. Listen, care, understand, and work together to find solutions.
Tips for teachers
By having a supportive classroom, with wellbeing at the forefront, teachers can support students with anxiety. In primary classrooms, it can help to teach relaxation exercises and skills, discuss healthy ways of dealing with anxiety and worry, and rewarding brave behaviour. Of course, self-regulation is key, and these skills can be modelled by the facilitator of learning. With teens, it’s important to be clear and precise about expectations, deadlines, assessment criteria and boundaries. By encouraging independence and showing teens that making mistakes is ok, while being consistent and showing there are consequences for task avoidance, they will build resilience and strategies to cope. Anxiety can sometimes be part of larger mental health concerns, so treat every case as an individual one and allow open lines of communication between yourself, the school counsellor, the student and the student’s family.
Life Skills Group programs can help support teachers, parents, and communities with managing anxiety in children and teenagers using practical tools and techniques. If you would like to book in a time with one of our wellbeing specialists to talk about how we can help your school please call us on 1300 889 018 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.