Anxiety in Children and Young People
Anxiety can affect anyone no matter what their age, background or situation. With as many as one in six young people experiencing anxiety at some point, it is very common to have anxiety. Anxiety is a feeling of fear or panic and some people may experience panic attacks.
It’s normal for children to feel worried or anxious from time to time – such as when they’re starting school or nursery, or moving to a new area. But for some children, anxiety affects their behaviour and thoughts every day, interfering with their school, home and social life. This is when you may need professional help to tackle it.
Signs and Symptoms
Anxiety signs and symptoms can be complicated and include:
- Not sleeping or eating properly.
- Quickly getting angry or irritable and being out of control during outbursts.
- Finding it hard to concentrate.
- Constantly worrying or having negative thoughts, or feeling frightened or nervous all the time.
- Feeling tense and fidgety, or using the toilet often.
- Being tearful or clingy often.
- Start to wet the bed.
- Lacking the confidence to try new things or seem unable to face simple, everyday activities.
- Physical sensations: sweating, chest pains, breathing difficulties, heart racing, shaking, blushing, headaches, feeling sick, stomach cramps and/or diarrhoea, panic attacks and vomiting, dry mouth, trembling, feeling faint.
Feeling one, some or even most of the above doesn’t necessarily mean you have anxiety. It’s important to talk to your GP to get a full diagnosis.
Teenagers are more likely to suffer with anxiety than another other age group, but anyone can have anxiety. There are many reasons why children or young people may develop anxiety, these may include:
- Some children are more prone to worries and anxiety than others.
- Children often find change difficult and may become anxious following a house move or starting a new school.
- Children who have had a distressing or traumatic experience, a bereavement, or are seriously ill or may suffer with anxiety afterwards.
- Family arguments and conflict can also leave children feeling insecure and anxious.
- Being abused or neglected, or school-related issues like exams or bullying.
- Children can also pick up anxious behaviour from being around anxious people.
- Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autistic spectrum disorders are more likely to have problems with anxiety.
How to Help Your Child or Young Person with Anxiety
If a child is experiencing anxiety, there is plenty parents and carers can do to help. First and foremost, it’s important to talk to your child about their anxiety or worries. Reassure them and show them you understand how they feel.
If your child is old enough, it may help to explain what anxiety is and the physical effects it has on our bodies. You could describe anxiety as being like a wave that builds up and then ebbs away again.
As well as talking to your child about their worries and anxieties, it’s important to help them find solutions. It’s a good idea to seek professional help if your child is constantly anxious and if it is not getting better or is getting worse, if self-help isn’t working or if it is affecting their school, family life or friendships.
Other Ways to Ease Anxiety
- Teach your child to recognise signs of anxiety in themselves and to ask for help when it strikes.
- Routine can be reassuring, so try to stick to regular daily routines where possible.
- If your child is anxious because of distressing events, such as a bereavement or separation, see if you can find books or films that will help them understand their feelings.
- If you know a change, such as a house move is coming up, prepare your child by talking to them about what is going to happen and why.
- Try not to become anxious yourself or overprotective – rather than doing things for your child or helping them to avoid anxiety-provoking situations, encourage your child to find ways to manage them.
- Distraction, relaxation and talking exercises can be helpful for children. Have a look at the NHS webpage on anxiety for some helpful tips and activities.
Getting Help for Yourself or Your Child
The type of treatment offered by your GP or a specialist will depend on your child’s age and the cause of their anxiety. Counselling can help your child understand what’s making them anxious and allow them to work through the situation.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help your child manage their anxiety by changing the way they think and behave. Anxiety medicines may be offered to your child if their anxiety is severe or doesn’t get better with talking therapies. They are usually only prescribed by doctors who specialise in child and adolescent mental health.
This post relies on information gathered from the NHS, Children’s Society, YoungMinds and Childline webpages on anxiety. Have a look at these webpages and the others listed below for more information and guidance on how to access help if you think you or your child may be dealing with anxiety.
YoungMinds Crisis Messenger
- Provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK if you are experiencing a mental health crisis
- If you need urgent help text YM to 85258
- All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors
- Texts are free from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus.
- No Panic are the people to call if you are suffering from panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and other related anxiety disorders.
- Helpline: 0844 967 4848 (Daily 10:00 – 22:00 Charges apply)
- Youth Helpline for 13 – 20 yr olds: 0330 606 1174 (Mon – Fri 15:00 – 18:00 Charges apply)
- Having a panic attack? Crisis number with recording of a breathing technique: 01952 680835 (24 hr)
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, email or chat online about any problem big or small
- Freephone 24h helpline: 0800 1111
- Sign up for a childline account on the website to be able to message a counsellor anytime without using your email address
- Chat 1:1 with an online advisor
- If you’re under 25 you can talk to The Mix for free on the phone, by email or on their webchat. You can also use their phone counselling service, or get more information on support services you might need.
- Freephone: 0808 808 4994 (13:00-23:00 daily)
· Calm: Meditation and guided mindfulness to sleep, relax and breathe app.