In a previous post on how to help an anxious child I suggested a couple of strategies that might encourage children to develop their problem-solving whilst under the protective wing of their parent. In this post I’m offering up more suggestions and considering when it might be wise to seek professional help.
Parents Are Role Models
Focusing attention on the child can only ever be part of the picture. It’s perfectly natural, for example, to be concerned when our child complains of stomach pains when it’s time for school. But our behavior as adults and parents is hugely influential to children. Anyone who is flustered and anxious is likely to ratchet up tensions in those around them. As a parent it’s important to manage our emotions in ways that send the right message to children. It’s good, for example, for parents to show how emotions can be managed. If parents get upset it’s good that they explain why afterwards and apologize. Encouraging children to articulate their anxieties can help normalize them. Ask for information and show interest and empathy. ‘I used to feel just the same when I was sad.’
Avoidance, Isolation and Behavior Change
Depending on the age of a child there will always be differences the way anxiety manifests. Even so, with anxiety it is avoidance that is always a central feature. Alongside anxiety we would typically expect to see negative thinking, anger or irritability, sleep pattern and possibly eating disruptions. Young children may become clingy in some circumstances and cut off in others. Some overlap with symptoms of depression may be seen. Older children and teens may become more sullen and cut off. In either case a judgment has to be made as to when things have gone too far. As with most mental illness it is the duration of the problem as well as the effect it is having on the individual and those around them that becomes the deciding factor for seeking professional guidance.
When to Seek Professional Help
The first thing to say is that professional help isn’t a sign of failure as a parent. If anything it shows you take the responsibilities for the welfare of your child seriously. We aren’t taught how to be parents and certain situations benefit from help and advice. Most of us can fall back on our own experiences and those of others as a useful rule of thumb. But can we protect our children from depression or anxiety? We know anxiety is normal when starting a new school, or maybe meeting new people. We also know these anxiety inducing events subside. However, the rule of thumb for seeking help is when situations become extreme. By extreme, I mean the extent to which normal life is affected. There are limits to what a parent can and can’t achieve and sometimes an external perspective can be incredibly helpful when some perspective is needed.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.