The number of children having therapy for anxiety has soared, so how do you help an anxious child?

New statistics have revealed the number of children having therapy for anxiety has risen by 60% in two years [Photo: Getty]
New statistics have revealed the number of children having therapy for anxiety has risen by 60% in two years [Photo: Getty]

The UK is in the grip of an ‘anxiety epidemic’ with new figures revealing the number of children having therapy for anxiety has risen by 60 per cent in two years.

Childline said growing distress among children and teenagers was fuelling record numbers of counselling sessions, including thousands for children having panic attacks.

Their statistics show 13,746 sessions in 2016/17 for children suffering from anxiety, including more than 3,304 suffering panic attacks.

Commenting on the findings Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC told The Telegraph: “Anxiety is a growing problem in young people’s lives today, and it is not going away. We all need to help children and teenagers find ways to cope with their anxious feelings and not dismiss them as an overreaction.”

“One of the most important ways to help those that are struggling is to make sure they know they always have someone to talk to and they never have to suffer alone, which is why Childline is so vital.”

Whether its not wanting to go into school or nursery, or refusing to let go of your leg at a kids’ party, any parent who has a child with anxiety will appreciate how difficult it is to watch their little ones wrestle with situations that don’t seem that scary. But to anxious children, these every day situs can feel genuinely threatening.

So how do you help an anxious child cope?

“When children seem anxious, talking things through can be helpful but it’s often not enough. This is because anxiety often runs riot in their bodies as much as in their brains,” advises Jane Evans, Trauma Parenting & Behaviour expert.

Stress and anxiety are different,” she continues. “Stress is short and usually has a context. An upcoming test or event they care about or need to perform well in. There are some nerves and doubts but with ongoing encouragement and practice their confidence starts to grow.”

“Anxiety can be triggered by anything and everything as it is a less rational response as it comes from the fight/flight system. If a child has difficulties getting back emotionally and physically to a state of relative calmness and balance they need extra support from the caring adults around them,” she adds.

How to help a child with anxiety [Photo: Getty]
How to help a child with anxiety [Photo: Getty]

Jane believes that in time children can build up some simple techniques and resources to cope with all the ups and downs of life.

For example:

  1. Learning fun ways to use their breathing to signal to their body and brain that ‘we are safe’, to come out of fight/flight mode. YouTube is full of fun ideas like lion’s breath.

  2. Lying flat out on the floor or a wall and breathing helps their whole system feel safe again

  3. Placing their hands on top of their heads and breathing slowly in and out.

  4. Resting one hand on their heart the other on their stomach and breathing.

“The best way is to do it with them when they are NOT anxious so it becomes habit,” Jane continues. “If they are reluctant then make it part of your daily life and they will soon learn and will use them in time,” she explains.

Jane has some theories about what lies behind this ‘anxiety epidemic’ amongst children, one being a lack of opportunity for connection thanks to the fact that many parents are often stress themselves and distracted by work, social media and the pace of life.

“Even young children pick up on our stress,” she explains. “Higher levels of family break-ups and having to navigate different homes, new partners and other children, and so many of us on screens 24/7.”

“In essence, its 21st century life which has evolved at a pace we just can’t adjust to, especially not children whose brains and bodies are under developed and need nurture, plenty of time to play and interact emotionally and physically with their parents and family.”

Jane says that children’s anxiety can present in many different forms including irritability, sleep difficulties, being overly eager to please others, stomach pains and cramps, feeling hot and flustered, being off their food or binging on sugary or fatty foods, preparing then excessively checking and rechecking, being forgetful and tearful or being withdrawn and negative, chewing/picking/jiggling about a great deal, suffering from repetitive illnesses.

“My best advice is SLOW DOWN!” Jane continues. “Make life less hectic and yourself more able to have short, simple feelings based chats and learn to breathe as a family in every sense of the word!”

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