How best to manage your anxious child – By Jo Ryan

Parenting is a hard gig. Just getting through the day to day can be exhausting and stressful. But what if you also have a child that struggles with anxiety – how do you deal with that? Anxiety is more common now in younger children than it has ever been. If your child is anxious then they can also struggle to get to sleep and to stay asleep all night. And if your child isn’t sleeping then you aren’t sleeping either – which is not great for anyone!

Managing a child with anxiety can be tricky. As parents we just want to make it better for our child. When it comes to feelings, sometimes we just need to listen and be there for them to express their feelings, good and bad. Giving your child the space to talk about the things that make them worried or anxious can really help relieve these worries. And feeling less anxious and worried will help them sleep better.

It’s not an easy road and it may take some time, but here 7 things you can do with your child to help relieve their anxiety and worry:

1.      No screens before bed. We all know that the blue light from screens inhibits the body’s natural release of melatonin which helps a person sleep. So have at least one, but preferably two, hours of no screens before bedtime.

2.      Make some time every night before bed, to talk about their day. Having a cuddle on the bed and getting them to talk about whatever is on their mind if a good way to download before sleep. Try to listen and not talk too much.

3.      If your child can’t sleep at bedtime, allow them to read until they are ready for sleep. Putting them to bed at the same time is important but giving some leeway around when they go to sleep is okay and makes the child feel like thy have some control.

4.      Routine is very important. Kids of all ages love routine. It makes them feel safe and secure. Find a routine that works for your family and stick to it.

5.      Read them a story. Reading before bed can help refocus your child’s mind, in a positive way, and can help them forget their worries.

6.      Practice relaxation exercises with your child. Basic relaxation exercises can help your child to reduce their stress and anxiety. This might mean telling your child to take a few slow, deep breaths, and you doing it with them so they can match your pace. Or it might mean asking your child to image him or herself somewhere relaxing, like the beach or relaxing in a hammock. There are also loads of meditations and relaxation apps around now for kids, so try some of those out.

7.      Stay calm. Children look to their parents to determine how to react in situations. Children pick up on their parent’s emotions and mimic them. If you are anxious, your child will pick up on that anxiety and experience an increase in their anxiety.  So if you can, try and manage your own anxiety.

Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.