How to help a child suffering with anxiety
The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in growing levels of anxiety and poor mental wellbeing amongst the population. With news reports available for consumption 24 hours a day and phrases like ‘death toll’ and ‘global crisis’ and ‘infections rates’ appearing frequently in article headlines, it Is no wonder anxiety levels in adults are beginning to soar. However, as adults we are able to have an understanding of what is happening in the world and why our daily lives have had to change so drastically over the last few months. For children, the pandemic has turned their whole lives upside down and they may be finding it difficult to understand and deal with all the changes. Several changes have been made to our daily lives that can trigger anxiety in children and young people: wearing masks, social distancing, frequent hand washing, the constant stream of bad news. Whilst as adults we might understand these measures and restrictions have been put in place to keep us safe, children may find this new way of life a bit scary and hard to adjust to. Pandemic aside, looked after children in foster care can face mental health issues and anxiety, triggered by factors like emotional trauma and living situations changing frequently and unexpectedly. Anxiety can make daily life feel challenging and overwhelming, it is important that parents and carers help children to learn how to cope with and overcome their anxieties. In this blog post we are sharing 5 useful things carers and parents can do to help their children who may be suffering with anxiety.
5 simple things carers and parents can do to help a child with anxiety.
Talk about emotions and feelings – Sometimes children may not know the name for the emotion they are feeling. As adults, we can help increase their vocabulary around emotional wellbeing by talking honestly about our own feelings. By giving children the right words, adults are able to enable children to better understand and communicate their own needs and feelings. For example, a child may say they have a stomach ache when in a new or overwhelming situation. If the child’s parent/carer explains that sometimes their tummy feels funny when they’re feeling worried or frightened, this can help a child to understand something may be worrying them and causing a physical response. Older children and young adults also benefit from the knowledge that talking honestly about feelings is encouraged. Older children and teenagers are more likely to open up when they feel safe and know they will be greeted with support, love and reassurance from their parents/carer. Whilst encouraging honest and open conversation is important, parents and carers must also be understanding and respectful if a child is not ready to discuss their feelings yet. As long as everyone is aware that when they want to open up someone will be there to listen, that is the most important thing. For more information about how to talk to child about different emotions, visit this useful page on the Action for Children website.
Read about anxiety – To easily and quickly identify signs of anxiety in children it is important to have the correct knowledge and facts. There is a wealth of information online and in books explaining exactly what anxiety is and how to help your child if they are struggling with their mental health (useful website include Mental Health UK and Young Minds). Reading story books about emotional wellbeing and anxiety can help make the mental health conversation much more accessible for younger children. The Educate2Epower website has a list of books to read to children about anxiety. Also, reading about a character in a book living with anxiety or other mental health issue, normalises the fact that anyone can suffer with poor mental health at some point and it is nothing to be embarrassed about. If a child can identify with a character in a story book, they may also find it easier to make sense of the emotions they are feeling and feel more confident articulating this to their family.
Encourage a healthy lifestyle – Getting outside and walking in the fresh air can work wonders for anyone struggling with their mental health. Exercise is not necessarily a cure in itself but it is an effective way to deal with anxiety and is widely recognised as an easy way to boost a persons’ mood. Exercise and an active lifestyle is important for adults and children, physical activity keeps our bodies healthy but is important for mental health too. If you are suspecting a child is feeling anxious and they do not want to talk about it, suggest a walk in the woods or a trip to the playground for an hour. Family hikes in the countryside or big days out for a walk along the coast, there are lots of ways you can make exercise fun and exciting for the whole family. During lockdown we were encouraged to go for a walk once a day as scientists understand that getting outside of the home and moving is essential for maintaining good mental wellbeing.
Identify triggers – Anxiety can be triggered by certain situations, people or activities. Take the pandemic as an example, some children may be displaying signs of anxiety when going out to the shops as they are afraid of seeing lots of people wearing face masks. You can help your child with this by explaining why everyone is wearing masks, how they are there to help us and maybe as a family you could wear masks sporadically around the home to normalise them and reduce the fear associated with them. Perhaps the news is causing increased anxiety in your child, a simple solution to this would be to limit the amount of access they have to the news or cease all exposure they have to news reports altogether. If you are able to talk with your child and decipher exactly what is triggering their anxiety, you will be in a much better position to help them develop healthy coping strategies. The NHS website has useful information on how to spots the signs of anxiety and it’s triggers in children.
Seek professional advice – Sometimes anxiety triggers can easily be identified and rectified, but other times what is causing a child’s anxiety is not always as simple to pinpoint. If you find yourself in a situation where talking and supporting your child is not helping and you do not know what to do next, there is plenty of professional help available. Foster carers can discuss their concerns with their social worker/agency and turn to resources provided in their training for help. Sometimes it may be necessary for a child to see their GP who can direct you in the direction of expert help and support, counselling may be necessary, for example. There are many mental health charities that can provide you with expert advice and provide you with information and tools that will help your child through this difficult time. If you need more support, visit these charity websites ……
We understand that 2020 has been a difficult year for everyone and we hope this blog post has helped parents and foster carers to feel more confident in helping their children understand and cope with their anxiety. Focus Foster Care is a fostering agency and we are not mental health professionals, this post is intended to help signpost parents and carers to expert mental health resources and provide simple advice and guidance. We encourage you to seek further advice from the websites and charities mentioned above for more information and expert advice.
Are you interested in helping vulnerable children in your local area through fostering? We are currently seeking supportive and caring people with a drive to help children in need to join our family of foster carers. To find out more about joining our West Midlands based independent fostering agency, please phone 0800 524 4797.
To find out more about fostering and how to become a foster carer with our independent fostering agency, please read the following pages on our website:
Types of foster care.
Who can foster?
How to become a foster care with Focus Foster Care.
Fostering – frequently asked questions.
The benefits of fostering with Focus Foster Care.