The journey from childhood to adolescence can be a chaotic experience for both the parent and child, due to range of physical and emotional changes occurring throughout this period. The transition from primary to high school transpires shifting values, including increased importance of social relationships and a desire for greater independence. For some children, difficulty adjusting can result in increased anxiety.
The symptoms of anxiety are likened to the flight/fight response, a normal and healthy response designed to prepare ourselves for danger. In response to a trigger, physiological changes occur, such as trembling, heart racing, perspiration, ‘butterflies’ in the stomach and our minds may become focused upon the trigger. In the short term, these changes are designed to help us tackle the anticipated situation, however, when symptoms of anxiety begin to interfere with the ability to live a normal life it can be highly debilitating.
These symptoms may be situation specific, such anxiety prior to giving class presentation, or may be general anxiety, which refers to consistent worry surrounding a number of triggers. Due to the increased importance of peer relationships, adolescents often develop anxiety surrounding a fear of negative evaluation in social situations. Socially anxious individuals may hesitate to speak in class, avoid social activities and in severe cases may experience school refusal. Disconnecting from learning and peers in this critical period can have a significant impact upon self esteem, creating a vulnerability to future depressive episodes.
How you can support your anxious child
- Talk to your child about their fears and anxiety. Try to understand why your child is anxious and be empathic to their situation.
- Encourage your child to use relaxation exercises to calm themselves when they are feeling anxious. Controlled breathing exercises involve repeating slow deep breaths until anxiety reduces. Progressive muscle relaxation involves a sequence of tensing and relaxing exercises, progressing from the muscles in the feet upwards to the muscles in the face. Progressive muscle relaxation can assist with releasing muscle tension associated with anxiety.
- If you are concerned about your child’s anxiety then seeking professional help may be beneficial. Cognitive behavioural therapy has evidenced base success for treating anxiety. It involves examining the thought patterns associated with increased anxiety, and establishing more helpful thinking styles.