Understanding children is a very important aspect of being involved as a provider of children’s services, and most importantly, as parents. Child psychologists are keen to discover the causes of certain patterns of behaviour in children. They are interested, for instance, in how anxiety can affect the child’s development and happiness. It is difficult to identify a single cause for anxiety. Usually behaviour is far more complex, having been influenced by a blend of prior experiences. Every child’s situation is unique and there is no one ideal environment that results in healthy emotional development.
Children become healthy, well-adjusted adults from many different backgrounds – in a one-parent family, as an only child, in a large extended family, with two parents who both work full time, with home education, in a foster home or residential home. Family structures differ a great deal, both inside and between cultures.
Despite this, research has shown that about 20% of children and adolescents experience anxiety, and that this is one of the most common mental health concerns for individuals as a whole. It is known that negative early experiences can impair children’s mental health and effect their cognitive, behavioural, social-emotional development (both as a child and as an adult). It has been found that early intervention is vital to help families who are experiencing difficulties. Their anxiety may go unnoticed by parents and teachers as they are often well-behaved and quiet.
Childhood anxiety can manifest itself as behaviours that include: nervous movements or twitches, sleep problems, accelerated heart rate and breathing, irritability, clinging behaviour, nausea, restlessness and distractedness. This pattern can lead to poor performance at school, socialisation problems, and discord at home. Sometimes, anxious children avoid talking about how they feel. They may think that their parents do not understand or they may fear being judged. This can lead to many anxious children feeling lonely and misunderstood.
However, parents can help their children to develop skills and confidence in order to overcome fears and anxieties, leading to a happier life. Therapy – and occasionally medication – may be necessary, but parental support and education is essential.
Advice for parents who think their child may have an issue with anxiety constitutes the following:
- Ensure that your child eats healthily, exercises regularly and gets plenty of sleep
- Acknowledge your child’s achievements and stay positive
- Try to remain calm and logical. Let your child experience you as a relaxed person
- Maintain a routine and be consistent
- Acknowledge you child’s feelings and do not encourage him or her to suppress anxiety
- Meet up with your child’s teachers, child minders to discuss progress and any concerns
- Encourage your child to have hobbies outside school
- Plan events and also let your child see how changes to plans may occur
- Relax together.