On my last post i explained that i was waiting for my dissertation results – well i can now tell you i am very pleased to have received a first!!
According to Kirmayer (2019) a clinical psychologist, the main part of treating anxiety in children is teaching their parents stress tolerance. This helps to direct the parent’s anxiety, while also helping them support and scaffold their child’s development of stress tolerance.
So if your a parent and suffer from anxiety, then you should ensure that you stay calm, with a neutral demeanour when feeling anxious in front of your child. This will teach your child that being calm is the way to deal with stress. However, if you cannot control your anxiety infront of your child (there are times when i have not managed to stay calm and my girls have witnessed me have a full blown panic attack) then after the event the parent should explain to their child how they were feeling and explain why they acted the way they did. You should then explain that there are better ways to deal with it and talk about strategies that might help. By talking about anxiety in this way with your child, you are letting them know that it is ok to feel stressed and anxious but you are teaching them that it is manageable.
It has been proven that parents’ behaviour and genetics can affect their child’s anxiety. Although a parent cannot change their genetics, there are ways parents can help their child not to get anxiety. It involves the parent modelling the behaviour they would like to see from their child, and not letting them witness any anxious behaviour.
A parent needs to look at their own worries and how they deal with it. Making changes to the way you act, can change how the child acts. You should give your child lots of encouragement and show you are interested in your child and the difficulties they are facing. For younger children reward charts can help, these reward the child for the behaviour you would like to see, for example sleeping in their own bed at night.
If you try to help your child avoid their triggers for anxiety, then although this might help in the short term, in the long term it is actually reinforcing the anxiety. It is more important to help them find techniques to manage their anxiety and to face up to it.
There is debate as to whether children should be given warnings prior to a routine change, as some need time to get used to the idea before it happens but others find this more stressful. Normally, you will know which your child would be better with.
The NHS suggests that a parent should talk to their child about how they are feeling, reassure them that they are not alone and that they understand how they are feeling. They should then support them with finding solutions to their anxieties rather than looking at how to avoid them. With a younger child, it is recommended to try and distract them from their anxiety, and with an older child relaxation techniques may be useful.
If the child’s anxiety gets no better after you have tried supporting them yourself, then seeking external support is the next step. Making an appointment with the child’s GP, who can then refer on to the local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). The Young Minds helpline is another point of contact, which can give you and your child advice on how to get support with their mental health. The support that is offered by CAMHS would depend on the child’s age and what is causing the anxiety. The most common support that is given for anxiety in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT involves talking to a therapist who helps the child identify patterns between what they think, feel and do in situations where they are feeling anxious. Occasionally, the counsellor may ask to do sessions with the whole family, especially if it is a family problem that has caused the anxiety. The NICE guidance states that CBT can be given one to one, or in a group, and that the child or young person should be seen between eight and twelve times.
Medication is used regularly with adults, but rarely with children. If CBT does not work with an adolescent or a young adult then a doctor may prescribe a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Research shows that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are the first line medication for children, and have been proven to work. There has been debate over the risks of children taking medication, but the research shows that the benefits outweigh the risks. Although, the long term effects have not been researched.
The American Psychiatric Association (2013) describes resilience as adapting well when faced with threat or tragedy. It first became a concept after the trauma of war. Practitioners in health, social care and education work together to try and promote resilience in children and young people. Parents can also help promote resilience in their children by providing their child with a balanced and positive view of the world and explaining to the children that although bad things can happen, that society and individuals can overcome them. Resilience can be built by talking, problem solving and support.
The Education Secretary, Damian Hinds (2019) explained that compulsory health education, including mental health support will be taught in schools. These lessons will include mindfulness lessons and breathing techniques which will improve a child’s resilience. He also added that the Government is launching mental health trials in 370 schools, with them contributing evidence of the best mental health supports. This will include having a designated mental health first aider.
Just remember that talking to your child about anxiety and showing them ways to deal with it helps. Children copy their parents behaviours so try and explain to them why you have acted in a certain way.
Talking is the best therapy.