Is your child suffering from anxiety issues?
Anxiety is not an adult headache. Here’s how to deal with worries that plague your baby.
Looking back, you think childhood was free of care. Probe a little deeper into your memories and you realise that just like deadlines at work stress you out today, homework, exams and tiffs with friends threatened to end your world at 10.
It is not uncommon for young kids to experience anxiety, says New York-based psychologist and anxiety therapist Dr Tamar Chansky in her book, Freeing Your Child From Anxiety. Chansky, whose patients include adults and children (the youngest is three), says the first day of school can be both, exciting and daunting. “A child will quickly generate a series of catastrophic thoughts about everything that can go wrong. S/he can have a long list of ‘what if’ concerns,” she says.
Inner turmoil, the mechanism of anxiety is universal. “Children however, have fewer experiences than adults since much of their world remains undiscovered. It is natural for this to create uncertainty and that’s what feeds anxiety,” she explains. But parents can help.
Things that go pop: Some amount of fear is normal, do don’t panic each time your baby is ‘afraid’. Teaching your kids ways to deal with it early on will aid their emotional wellbeing as they mature. Kids often don’t know how to understand or express what they feel. They might say; my tummy is telling me not to go, or my head is saying something bad will happen. When talking to children about the topic, Chansky suggests you personify the emotion. First step: Separate the ‘worry’ from the child. Reassuring them that everything is fine without adequate proof seldom works. Instead, teach the child to logically argue with worry. Remember, you and your child are on the same team, on the opposite side of the ring is worry. Ask them, ‘What is ‘worry’ telling you?’ ‘What is the picture in your mind, what’s the story that the scared part of your mind is telling you’? Once they start to recognise the voice of worry, you can work on proving how most of the fearful predictions are unfounded. Parents can distinguish “parts of the brain” by changing their tone of voice when discussing ‘scary’ thoughts and ‘smart’ thoughts.
Don’t be dramatic: When teaching your kids to weigh their fears on a scale of real to imagined, make sure you act as a model. For example, if you are running late for a meeting and whine, “My whole day is ruined!” as you leave the door, remember your child will pick up on it.
Instead, talk yourself through it aloud so they know that they are not alone in feeling anxious. “Children may not give their parents the credit of being role models, but they pick up almost every behaviour. If you react to your anxiety in a controlled manner, you are in a better position to ask your son or daughter to do so,” says Chansky.
Emotions are standard everywhere, assures the psychologist. “Young parents who may have been affected by the job markets during the economic slowdown, for instance, tend to put undue pressure on children,” she says. For example, getting an unsatisfactory grade in standard IV isn’t going to affect their future job prospect. This pressure, along with lack of time to be by themselves because you have enrolled them in extra curriculum classes, can further wind your child up. “I suggest preparing their emotional health and balance as much as their CV,” says Chansky.
Get professional help: It is natural to be nervous about things that you are doing for the first time. Many fears come from the unknown. Questions like; what if I’m not good enough, what if I make a fool of myself, what if people don’t like me, are likely to be put to rest after your worst case scenario doesn’t come true. That means the second day at school, work or the playground will be less stressful.
Unlike cases of adult patients who suffer from anxiety disorder, children don’t use the learning from the experience to lessen anxious feelings. For example, the child worries that their teacher will be strict, it turns out she isn’t. Instead of using this experience to feel better, they start to worry about assignments, and other kids. If their anxiety seems to be escalating instead of subsiding after your interventions, look for red flags like constant crying, trouble sleeping, clinging to parents and physical symptoms like rashes and stomach aches. In such cases, parents may need to seek professional counselling.