It is normal for children to feel anxious or worried from time to time. However, for some children this anxiety affects their behaviour and thoughts each and every day, interfering with their participation and enjoyment during school, home and social life.
Symptoms of anxiety in children
Possible signs your child is experiencing anxiety but unsure how to communicate it:
· Feeling tense and fidgety
· Being clingy
· Difficulty in concentrating on a task
· Not eating well or a change in eating pattern
· Constant worrying or negative thoughts
· Quick to anger or outbursts that do not match the situation
Anxiety in children has become more common, especially after Covid. Social challenges, separation from parents, integration back into the routine, performance requirements (speeches, presentations, etc.) and general increase in demands on them can be overwhelming. However, most people do not know that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be very effective for children who are anxious. In fact, for children with mild to moderate anxiety, the recommended treatment is CBT. This form of therapy gives children the tools to manage the anxiety themselves, now and in the future. I combine this with Imagination Therapy to help them work towards their true potential.
Let’s look at cognitive behavioural therapies approach for anxiety in children
CBT is based on the idea that how we think, and act affects how we feel. By changing thinking that is distorted as well as behaviour that is challenging, we can change our emotions and reactions in the trigger situations. When we work with younger children, focusing on the behavioural part of CBT can be effective.
Untreated anxiety tends to get worse over time, not better, because the child learns that avoidance works in reducing the anxiety, at least in the short run. But as the child, and the family, work towards avoiding triggering those fears, they only grow more powerful. The goal in CBT is, essentially, to unlearn avoidant behaviour.
The tyrant in the brain
For children with anxiety disorders, the process begins by helping them, and their parents, get some distance from the anxiety and start thinking of it as a thing that is separate from who they are. Each approach is personalised for the child, but one example is having them conceptualise it as a ‘bully in the brain’. We can draw it, give it a name, describe it and thereby we can talk back to it.
Once we have the anxiety at arm’s length, we can teach the child to handle the tyrant, giving the children the idea that they can control their anxiety rather than it controlling them.
Reach out if you are having any concerns with your child, pre-teen or teen. Let’s give them the tools now that will help them for the rest of their lives.