It’s not clear if we are seeing more children with anxiety nowadays or if they were always there but undiagnosed. If you are worried about your child being overly anxious you are not alone and as a parent with a child with anxiety we know you need help too. Our story is personal to us, but you may find some things that you recognise. Before we get into our own story I want to make it clear that we are not doctors and the first thing I’d suggest is that you take the child displaying signs of anxiety to a doctor. Professional help is what you need. We’ve had professional help and come away with a tool kit to keep us going, but I hope even one piece of information here will help and perhaps even knowing you are not alone will help.
Our daughter was eleven when she moved school. All seemed well at first but it wasn’t long before she was showing signs of anxiety, though at that stage we didn’t label it as that. We just thought she was having problems settling into her new school. But within weeks a once compliant child was refusing to get on the bus for school, go to school or get out of bed. We decided to visit our doctor and thankfully we were taken seriously. Eventually we got in front of a child psychiatrist. Our daughter was diagnosed with a generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and received lengthy session of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). We were also given some degree of family therapy – certainly we were asked to look at our own behaviour. Not something we enjoyed. In fact parts of the process were extremely painful but gradually over a period of six months our daughter turned a corner. The anxiety subsided and she began to get her life back. It took another six months to feel we had made long lasting progress but going from times where it felt as we were living minute to minute, to some measure of normality was amazing. Four years on and our daughter lives an entirely normal life, going to school, seeing her friends and having fun. She has moments where she becomes anxious but thanks to CBT re-establishing her thought patterns she works through her thoughts and comes to a solution on her own. Sure sometimes she needs someone to listen while she does it but she does it herself.
How to Help Children with Anxiety
When you are dealing with someone with anxiety the first thing to recognise is that their fears are real. No matter how illogical they may seem to you. One of my daughter’s fears was about using public transport. When she was in the grip of her anxiety, the fear of what might happen on public transport was real, really real. Once I’d grasped that her fears were real to her the next thing was for me to be strong. Just because she was crying didn’t mean I had to dissolve. At least not in front of her (I saved that for walking the dog in the dark). When she could see that I was fine, she began to see that things might be fine too. Distraction worked too. Well, sometimes it worked other times it wasn’t enough. But sometimes it worked, right. Even if it was just getting her to have a shower or watching silly, escapist television programmes, it got us through that period of time.
We found it useful to be careful how we phrased things. For example when she was telling us about a particular fear instead of dismissing it we would try to use language along the lines of “yes, I can see why you’d find that difficult” to validate her feelings. We learnt that we couldn’t solve all the issues she presented to us. Often it felt as if as soon as we sorted one issue another appeared. We learnt to leave her to work through the issue herself.
Listening played an enormous part in getting our daughter back on track. It took time but even if we were in the middle of cooking dinner, we’d stop and listen, just listen and that helped hugely. Looking back it was a worthwhile investment of time. Night times can be a particularly difficult time for children with anxiety. We found again listening worked well, don’t try to provide solutions, everyone is tired its time to listen and face the hurdles in the morning.
If I can give you any advice it is to think of the three Ps – patience – getting better takes time, persistence – keep going with the treatment, things tend to get worse before they get better and professional help – you are unlikely to fix this yourself, you need a professional.