It is very normal for children and young people to have specific fears throughout their childhood and adolescence. Usually, these fears and worries go away on their own as you get older and expand your experience. Anxiety is the feeling we get as part of the normal human response to danger.
The danger does not have to be real or happening in the present moment, it can be worries or fear thoughts, images or memories; but our body reacts as if the danger is actually happening or is going to happen.
We say we are ‘anxious’ or have ‘anxiety’ when our body automatically goes into the threat/self-protection reaction, which can sometimes be very strong and overwhelming. The body’s threat/self-protection reaction is commonly called the ‘fight/flight/freeze’ reaction, which is driven by the need for survival and safety. This reaction helps us to survive in the face of a real and present danger. It is also activated by fears, images or memories, some of which we are aware of and others are not so clear, we just notice the anxiety in our body.
It is very normal for children and young people to have specific fears throughout their childhood and adolescence. These fears are often related to becoming more aware of the environment and potential dangers, such as heights, the dark or 'monsters under the bed'. Usually, fears and worries go away on their own as children develop and expand their experiences. Our body reacts as if the danger is actually happening or is going to happen. It works on a better safe than sorry principle - better to activate fight/flight and be wrong (survive), than to not activate it and be wrong (don't survive).
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Video description: Fight Flight for Kids
Video description: What is MINDFULNESS and how do you do it?
Video description: Fight Flight for Teenagers
Video description: Why do we lose control of our emotions?
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present, aware of what we are thinking and feeling as we think and feel, and not being overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Here are two videos on why mindfulness is a powerful tool:
To help your child manage anxiety, the first thing to do is to ask them to notice the sudden physical changes in the body and then focus on calming the body’s threat self-protection reaction using these simple strategies:
BREATHE: Breathe in for a slow count of 4 and breathe out for a slow count of 6.
COME to YOUR SENSES: find and focus on:
5 things you can see
4 things you can hear
3 things you can touch
2 things you can smell
1 slow, deep breath
When your child feels calmer help them to CHOOSE: whether the thought/s that made them anxious are helpful or unhelpful:
Video description: How to support a young person who may have anxiety?
Video description: Guided Mindfulness: Passing Clouds - Dr Natalie Roberts
Video description: Guided Mindfulness: Leaves on a Stream
Video description: Struggling with anxiety? Try on a new perspective
Worries and anxiety are normal; everyone gets anxious so it’s important to remember your child is not alone. Some worries may seem very real and very scary. Encourage your child to tell you how they are feeling and what is worrying them. Be kind and non-judgemental.
Tell your child that although anxiety feels horrible, the feelings will pass and the physical sensations cannot harm them. Use the breathing and ‘Come to your senses’ exercises above.
Help your child expand their comfort zone and by discovering what they can do (even when their anxious mind says they can’t)
PAUSE: ask them to Pause when they notice sensations of anxiety
ANCHOR: get them to anchor themselves to the present moment and BREATHE to help calm the body
UNDERSTAND: anxiety is normal, and is an old system of helping humans survive.
STEP BACK: get them to take a different perspective and ask them if their mind is being helpful? Is it taking them towards doing what matters to them, or away from that?
ENGAGE: encourage them to engage in taking action and doing what matters, carrying the anxiety with them if they need to.
It is normal for children and young people to experience worry as they develop through childhood and adolescence. The typical worries children and young people experience tend to be situation specific, short term and can be managed by yourself or with the support of parents/ carers. Examples might be:
Under 12s – Parent/carer lead interventions:
Over 12s – young person self-help with support from parent/carer
Young people: 16+
You need some help: These are challenges that some young people experience and may need some support with.
The degree to which a young person believes their thoughts as accurate truth or predictions can make anxiety worse. Episodes of anxiety might be more frequent or prolonged, cause significant distress and have a mild impact on their ability to cope with everyday life such as going to or coping at school, seeing friends or taking part in leisure activities. Examples might be:
As well as the features in Green, the following might also be present:
You might need specialist treatment: These are difficulties that cause a significant impact and a young person may need specialist support.
These anxieties are severe and enduring. These cause significant distress to a young person and significantly disrupt daily life such as school/ college, socialising and even self-care activities (e.g., sleep, bathing, eating).
Despite fully engaging with the strategies outlined in the green and amber stages, you may still be experiencing overwhelming anxiety that is significantly disrupting your daily life.
As well as the features in Green and Amber, the following might also be present: