Childhood Anxiety: Spotting the signs and treating the worries.

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Just like adults, children can get anxious too. Anxiety often affects us all at some point in our lives to differing degrees. However, there can be times in which feelings of anxiousness can start to affect how we go about our day-to-day lives. As adults, we’re familiar with these feelings and can learn to spot the symptoms and either try and prevent anxiety from becoming something more, or ask for help. However, when it comes to children, they often need support from their parents to take action if anxiety is starting to affect them.

Dr Ed Hatley, a GP doctor at Qure, the doctor on demand app, discusses childhood anxiety and offers advice on how to spot the symptoms and treat the condition.

What makes children anxious?
Feeling anxious throughout childhood is a completely normal response to learning and dealing with first-time experiences. For example, children of around eight months to three years tend to experience Separation Anxiety – becoming clingy and crying when they’re separated from their primary carer (usually their mothers). Whereas pre-school aged children tend to develop phobias, as opposed to typical anxieties, over things such as blood, storms, animals, insects or heights. These usually fade on their own after a while and tend to be nothing to worry about.

When does it become a problem?

As stated before, anxiety is normal. However, when it begins getting in the way of your child’s everyday life, it could be a sign that there’s something more going on. For example, children who have an anxiety problem tend to exhibit the symptoms for a longer period of time. They become much more withdrawn and go to great lengths to avoid things that make them feel anxious. Severe anxiety like this can harm a child’s mental and emotional wellbeing; it can affect their self-esteem and also impair their confidence.

What are the signs?
The signs may differ depending on the child’s age. For example, a young child cannot always understand or express what they are feeling so anxiety might show itself as the following:

•    Becoming irritable, tearful or clingy
•    Having difficulty sleeping
•    Waking in the night
•    Starting to wet the bed
•    Having bad dreams

However, with older children, who are more emotionally intelligent, they may show signs of:
•    Lacking the confidence to try new things or seem unable to face simple, everyday challenges
•    Finding it hard to concentrate
•    Having problems with sleeping or eating
•    Being prone to angry outbursts
•    Having negative thoughts going round and round their head, or thinking that bad things are going to happen
•    Starting to avoid everyday activities, such as seeing friends, going out in public or attending school

Of course, these symptoms do not definitively mean your child is experiencing anxiety; it could be a case of something else. However, if you are unsure, you should always seek help to ensure your child’s wellbeing is always looked after.

How can I help?
There are plenty of things you can do to help your child stop feeling anxious and overcome these feelings in the future. The first step is talking to your child about their anxieties and worries; reassuring them that they’re not alone and showing them you’re there to help and that you understand how they feel.

A good thing to do, if your child is old enough, is to explain what anxiety is. Being completely open and telling them what they’re feeling is normal might be what your child needs to hear to open up more about their own feelings.

I would also suggest exploring options that can help your child deal with and overcome the anxiety. For example, if your child is having worries about a sleepover he or she is attending, but does not want to miss out, instead of telling them not to go, you should explore things that will make sleeping away from home a little easier: taking a toy from home, or even a blanket from their bed (solutions that will help your child face and overcome the anxiety rather than avoid dealing with it all together).

There is a multitude of other ways to treat symptoms of anxiety – mainly because everyone is different. What works for one child may not work for another, so it’s important to keep your options open. The NHS Choices website has some excellent resources on how to treat anxiety, making it a great port of call if you believe your child may be suffering.

When should we get medical help?
If you have tried to address and help your child’s anxiety but the problem still persists and interferes with their everyday life, it is a good idea to seek professional help. A visit to your GP is always a good place to start and if you wish to seek further advice, parents and carers can get help around children's mental health from Young Minds' free parent helpline on 0808 802 5544 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am-4pm).

Qure is one of London's newest and most innovative health services. It provides a speedy 24/7 'doctor to your door' service via an app, offering affordable medical attention at the touch of a button. To find out more about Qure and its services, click here.

Photo from gozen.com