How to handle anxiety in children

As you know, I struggled extremely with anxiety as a child, from the age of 8 all the way through my teenage years. This would show in the form of panic attacks, acting out, being sick, crying, screaming etc. My responses to my fear surprised me everyday, they could present themselves in different ways upon every different occasion. What was I afraid of? Everything. And everyone. Just life in general. I was petrified of the lack of control I had in my life as a child and a young girl, about the unknown, about every little thing there possibly could be to worry about. Everything normal people don’t worry about, I would worry about, and panic about. 

 I appreciate how difficult this must have been from my parents point of view. Watching your child whom you love dearly suffer everyday, struggling to cope with things in life that they should enjoy, and that should come easy to them. I appreciate that my parents perhaps feared for me themselves. And we’re deeply sad about the behaviours I was showing. Perhaps I even appreciate that they didn’t understand, and didn’t know how to change my negative behavioural patterns, or to rid me of my harmful anxiety, and ultimately, my misery. The truth is, whilst I appreciate the struggle my parents had seeing me spiral into a damaged young girl, I do wish they had the answers, or sought harder to find them. 

I wish my parents talked to me, asked me questions, supported me, consoled me, gave me advice, and helped me. I wish they attempted to understand me. I wish they listened.  They did the best they could, with the limited knowledge of what I was going through that they had. But their best wasn’t good enough. Their best still meant I suffered everyday for 10 years, living within a black bubble too thick to pop –  a black bubble that surrounded me, encompassed me and filled me with misery. My parents tried – they sent me to therapy; they sent me to a woman who also just did not understand. The truth is, I was just a problem child. And problem children make noise. And noise needs to be shhh’d. 

All children are a blank canvas. They are a delicate piece of a puzzle which is yet to be completed. They drink in all they see in their environment, all they hear, all they witness. They may be young, but they see more than you know. They carry burdens just like the rest of us. They feel raw emotion, perhaps in a more fearful way, as a child’s mind is less equipped to decript a negative thought, behaviour or emotion and make sense of it. A child’s brain is sensitive, and powerful. It needs nourishment, kindness, honesty, support and love. It needs guidance and advice. And a child needs a hug! 

I came across a beautiful article today which sums up how I feel about everything I wish I had growing up. It discusses everything I wish my parents would have done, said and learned about my mental condition.  Please take a look at it here: What to say to children with anxiety.

What did I need as a child struggling with severe anxiety? 

  • The understanding of when I needed physical contact and when I was too anxious to be touched. Knowing the difference is essential 
  • Reassurance – the constant reminder that I will be ok, and this will pass 
  • Reminding of how much I am loved, and that I am special 
  • Reminding that I am normal, and anxiety does not make me strange, or troublesome, or unwanted 
  • Love, unconditional love 
  • Being spoken to like an adult
  • Being asked what I needed, what I felt like, how it felt in my body and in my mind, what I wanted to change 
  • Being involved in the decision to get help, and being asked for my opinion on what worked for me and what didn’t 
  • Support 
  • Positive reinforcement when I was doing well and understanding and patience when I wasn’t
  • A calming voice and calming influence – panic in others only brings in more panic in me

I truly wish I had someone to hug me and tell me I was normal, I was going to be ok and that things would get better. Even if you don’t have the answers, sometimes there is more power in reassurance and a great big hug than you would ever think. Communication doesn’t always have to be with words. But if I had have had the understanding of myself back then, and if I could only turn back time, I’d tell my parents exactly what I needed, and what I continually need as a young girl growing up with mental illnesses, trying to find my way in life. 

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