How to Help a Child With Anxiety

I was an anxious child. I think I had experienced little flashes of it throughout all of my childhood, but it was when I moved up to senior school that anxiety really got its teeth into me.

I was quiet, and sensitive – and sensitivity hasn’t always been seen in the most positive of lights. I would feel overwhelmed by noisy and crowded spaces, I’d like to plan ahead and I was – and still am  – an overthinker and a perfectionist. We also lived in a church building, which in many aspects was wonderful, but it did make me ‘different’ amongst my peers and it did pose its own challenges with regards to the overthinking; I’d imagine the building being set alight whilst we were sleeping or someone getting in to the building during the day and hiding until my Dad did his nightly checks.

You’d think then, that when a friend asked me for advice last week regarding his daughter who is experiencing severe anxiety after moving up to secondary school, I’d be a fountain of experience and knowledge and be able to give real, practical advice, having lived through it myself… but instead, I kind of drew a bit of a blank. I empathised of course, I gave some small words of advice about what could help anyone with anxiety, but it was only when I went away and thought about it and talked to my friend who works in mental health about it that I could really come up with some actual, relevant advice.

I think that this is for two reasons, firstly, I experienced all of this anxiety in the mid-nineties. We simply did not have the knowledge or the resources to deal with children’s mental health at this point in time. My experience was very much, go to school and deal with it for 6 hours, 5 days a week. My parents tried their best to help me, but without the resources and the education there for them to access, it was at times both frustrating and agonising. Secondly, I don’t remember whole years of this time period, or rather, I remember a few standout moments from when I was 10 or 11 to when I left school at 16, the rest is very blurry and jumbled up. I was bullied throughout my time at secondary school and this has had a long-lasting effect, even to this day. Just because the memories aren’t there, doesn’t mean the feelings within my body, my reactions to certain things and the way I have learnt to process this – what I now can recognise as complex trauma –  aren’t.

So, what would have helped me back then? What advice did I go back to my friend with and if you have an anxious child – whether there is bullying involved, or not – how can you help them?

Acknowledge the Anxiety

For so many years people seemed to believe that mental health issues would magically disappear if they weren’t talked about. That somehow, if we didn’t acknowledge them and the damage that they cause, that they would just go away. That talking about them was somehow indulgent and self-absorbed. I can assure you, none of this is true.

What acknowledging anxiety does, is rather wonderful, for it helps to take away some of its power. Anxiety thrives on the unknown, it feeds off of ruminating thoughts. If, as someone with anxiety, you are able to sit down with someone you trust and talk about what is worrying you then that is half the battle won, for it gets it out.

Of course, talking can be a pretty big thing in itself when anxiety has dug its claws in. How do we make it make sense? We know that it is rarely rational. That so many people will, and perhaps have, told us ‘not to be so silly’, or have brushed it off, or even laughed at us. The best thing that you can do with someone with anxiety, is just listen. Don’t judge, don’t try and fix it, just listen. Very often, within that safe space of being able to talk about it and have these words heard, we can come to our own conclusions about how to deal with what is happening, or sometimes just giving our thoughts the space to come out means we can hear them logically when they aren’t all clamouring over themselves to be heard. Philippa Perry wrote a wonderful book, which was published earlier this year entitled ‘The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (And Your Children Will Be Glad You Did)’ in it, she talks about how validation is so, so important. That just acknowledging what a child feels can (rather literally) work magic. Instead of brushing what a child is telling you off, a different response could be ‘I understand how that could be upsetting, what do you think would help?’ this then opens up the subject for discussion, whilst also keeping the child in control of their feelings and emotions which will, in turn, enable them to better process these ‘difficult’ feelings as they encounter them again throughout growing up and into adulthood.

Observe How the Anxiety Presents Itself

This will be different from person to person and sometimes it will manifest in different ways for the same person. Anxiety can make you feel so restless that you can’t sit still, so fearful that the only way you feel you can deal with it is to be angry, or so numb and scared that it mutes you. Dealing with difficult emotions can cause some people to overeat, and it can cause some people to not eat at all (the lump in your throat? that knot in your stomach? These are very real feelings.) Anxiety can be as much physical as it is a mental, illness.

Image credit: Blossomedcherry.com

Anxiety may keep itself at bay all weekend and only come to the surface on a Sunday night. Or, it may be more prevalent on a Saturday when the week has come to an end and our thoughts start to ruminate. Anxiety sends us into ‘fight or flight’ – giving us an adrenaline rush which can make us appear sometimes manic, fidgety or forgetful. It’s also exhausting, sometimes the safest and most desirable option is to just go to sleep and black it all out.

Anxiety isn’t always a frowning, worried look. It could be any behaviour that seems out of character or alarming, especially before a big event. However, for some (like me) just the school environment with its noise, atmosphere and constant busyness could cause anxiety.

There are some great meditations out there for children (check out Insight Timer, completely free and with a huge library of mediations, music and even stories) but sometimes sitting still could be impossible. If there is restlessness or a huge adrenaline rush – encourage exercise or get outside, go for a run or go into the woods and jump about; scream, cry, pretend to be wild animals! Getting the cortisol out, is good and will help someone with anxiety rebalance themselves and be able to gain some control over their emotions in a calmer, more manageable way.

Encourage the Flow of Words

I have never been a big talker, even in therapy, I have felt at times that I have talked ‘too much’ after talking for an hour. But still, I love words, I love reading and I love creating worlds. Encourage your child to write and then even if they can’t say the most difficult or distressing thoughts out loud, then they could at least write them down. Writing is an amazing tool; it allows us to process emotions in a calm way, which no-one else has to see if we don’t want them to. It also allows us to keep some of these feelings on paper, so that when we go back and read what we have previously written, we can see how far we have come.

If your child doesn’t like the idea of writing about themselves, encourage them to create a character. This character could be based on them and have the same fears, but this character may also find ways to overcome these fears. Or, it may just be a really good insight into your childs mind (if they are happy with you reading it). Writing may also serve as a precursor to talking about it, if we become comfortable with the language used then we are more likely to slowly become comfortable with talking about it.

Allow Your Child to Be in Control

This can be hard – so often we, as adults, just want to swoop in and make everything better. But anxiety can sometimes make you feel like you have no control, and we need to retain what we do have. A good example of this would be coming up with a plan of what your child thinks may help when their anxiety is getting worse or when it is at its peak.

You could use a 1 – 100 scale, or even various emoticons, eg 😊 all the way along to ☹ but at each point allow your child to have input as to what it feels like and what may help stop it escalating. For example, at a level 50, they may find that they are fidgety and unable to focus, but getting some fresh air and going outside may help calm them. Or at a 100 (with 100 being peak anxiety) they may be able to tell you in advance what will help, so that you can be better equipped to help them when communication is hard, or even impossible.

Image credit: https://ccp.net.au/suds-thermometer/

It’s not foolproof and sometimes it can be very hard to remember or acknowledge what we felt whilst experiencing a panic attack or complete numbness, but sitting with your child and helping them work through these stages (even if you have to adapt them as time progresses) and allowing them to make the final decision over what steps you take will help them feel they have control over what can feel like a terrifying situation. It will also give them tools that will help later in life when it comes to dealing with difficult emotions.

Be Kind to Yourself

Having a child with anxiety isn’t your fault, it doesn’t mean that you have done anything wrong and it doesn’t make you a bad parent. No-one expects you to have all the answers, its ok (and perfectly normal!) to feel angry and upset at the situations that mental illness puts us into, and just because at times you may feel helpless it does not mean that you are.

However, you do need to look after yourself. Supporting someone with anxiety can be exhausting – we all absorb energy and we all, at different levels, empathise. At times, I think we have all wished that we could bear someone else’s pain for them – but, we can’t. What we can do though, is make sure that we are strong enough to help them carry the burden of it, and that includes keeping ourselves healthy.

Never be afraid to get help from your local GP. Just because you go there presenting with a mental health issue, it doesn’t mean that they will go for medication as a first (or only) resort. There are various therapies available and, if you can, its usually wise to let the school know of the situation aswell. Very often they have procedures in place to help children suffering with emotional or mental health issues.

There are also usually support groups available for carers and those who have children who are struggling with anxiety, along with other mental health conditions. Your GP or local mental health unit will have information about these.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and it’s worth noting that I am not a mental heath professional. I have lived with anxiety for the majority of my life, and whilst I have learnt of things that do help, these can take years! If you have any other suggestions regarding what may help, please do let me know in the comments ❤

Useful Websites

https://youngminds.org.uk/

https://www.kooth.com/

Related Posts

The Impact of Bullying

Validation Isn’t Just For Parking Tickets

Too Sensitive

Main image credit: Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash


Thank you for reading If you have enjoyed this writing, please feel free to come and join me on my following social network pages to see my new posts and daily musings:

Instagram ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

Where The Swings Used To Be

I jotted this down as a note a few weeks ago on my phone. My husband and I had gone up to Gloucestershire to visit my parents for a few days, and on the first evening we took our dog out for a short walk before bed.

If you have read my previous post, you’ll know that my teenage years were a little difficult with school and the bullying that I encountered there. This feels like a good time to share this writing… not only as a follow on from that, but also because I’ve realised that going back to a place can stir up so many different memories, emotions and even behaviours. However, I have also realised that a ‘safe space’ doesn’t always have to be co-ordinates on a map, it can also be a person.

I am very lucky, that my safe person is my husband. I realised when I spent time in Gloucestershire a couple of days ago without him, that I felt very different to how I feel when I am at home in Somerset. He helps to ground me, here in the present. He reminds me – often without words – that I am safe, I am loved and that I am not a scared fourteen year old girl any more.

I still have a lot of healing to do – but I have been with him now for sixteen years. Sixteen years of visiting my parents and not once did I attempt to bring him to this place described below – it was too painful. However, as an adult, with him by my side, with the healing that I have started to do I felt brave enough. However, as you’ll read, it did also stir up a lot of emotion.

This is unedited.

I was going to take him there, to show him the spot where a smaller version of me would sit, and wait

I never knew what for, but I knew where I didn’t want to be, where I couldn’t be, who I couldn’t face, again

Two swings and a slide, bark upon the ground. It was like a little secret area but it wasn’t a secret at all.

My mum once told the woman from the school that I could be anywhere, that I knew those alleyways like the back of my hand… I didn’t know them tonight as a woman. I lost my way, doubled back.

It was gone, all of it. I looked at the house that now stood in its place, it was established.

Nearly 20 years on and I am not established.

Bricks and mortar don’t erase a place. They don’t erase the sadness that a place can hold.

I wonder if when they tuck their children up in bed, they know that a girl once sat in this place because she didn’t know where else to go.

That she was so lost, just 5 minutes from home.

That in 20 years she would hold her husbands hand as she looked for that place, the place that is so vivid in her mind and find that it was long gone.

Just another house, in another cul de sac.

But one full of memories.


Thank you for reading If you have enjoyed this writing, please feel free to come and join me on my following social network pages to see my new posts and daily musings:

Instagram ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

The Impact of Bullying

When I was just a little tot, my family moved into a church building. It wasn’t a typical church – no steeple, or anything like that. It was in fact the old offices of the local electricity board and it looked like a building that wouldn’t seem out of place in soviet Russia.

It was the late eighties – the rooms were big, the floors covered in carpet tiles. Large, corporate, geometric patterns were on the wallpaper and red handrails adorned the main central staircase. Our flat was at the far end of the building, upstairs. I must have been the only child at school that at times wished for a smaller bedroom. But it was our home and my parents made it feel just like that.

Throughout infant and junior school, I don’t recall an awful lot of bullying. I was quiet, but I wasn’t all that different to the other kids. I had a close friend who I had gone to playgroup with and we remained friends throughout those years. I remember not being overly confident when it came to school plays and wanting to be at home rather than at school – but I think that is just the mark of the sensitive, introverted child that I was.

When I moved to senior school though, something shifted. The school was much closer to our home in the church and it wasn’t a nice area. The church itself was well-placed, my parents helped so many people in the local community with food banks, Christmas dinners and just having a ‘safe’ place to go to, at any time. The church building also housed a toddler group, playgroup and café. Local groups met there for woodwork, music, keep fit… it was the community hub that the community needed.

Suddenly though, to my new peers, I was different. Not only was I quiet and sensitive, I also lived in a church and this made me stand out. My friend from junior school moved up to senior school with me, and I though all would be well – we’d stick together, wouldn’t we?

No…

We stayed within the same friendship group, but it wasn’t a healthy one. There was a definite shift in dynamics once we had paired up with two other girls and within a short space of time this caused a definite split between the four of us. It has only been in the last six months in therapy that I have been able to look at this group of the four of us – which did merge into six – objectively. Now I can see the split, 3 girls who had the power and 3 that didn’t.

I don’t know how it happened, not really. There weren’t vast differences between us in the areas that you would think would cause such a drastic change, but once it had happened it was very hard to get back on an even keel. I tried making other friends, but I was quiet and shy and over time my self-esteem took a hefty whack. Who would want to be friends with me? Besides, the moods of these three girls (one in particular) would change from day to day. On Monday I may be left out of everything, called a witch in front of the rest of the class whilst the teacher was out of the room, forced to hand over parts of my lunch, or be told that I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough or clever enough to be part of the group… but then, on Tuesday they could be the best friends that one could wish for.

In adulthood, this is seen as coercive and controlling behaviour, it is recognised very clearly as abuse.

In childhood, its playground banter.

For 5 years, I had this. Day in, day out. It carried on even when our family moved from the church and into a normal house. I didn’t know if I was going into school to see my friends or my tormentors. I got even quieter, I literally and metaphorically, shrunk. I told my parents, after much deliberation and the main bully was brought in from PE to sit in the deputy heads office and apologise… she told me, my parents and the school staff that it was only a joke, that none of it was serious and she couldn’t understand why I was hurt by it. Nothing was done and afterwards she quietly ramped it all up; she was the victim now, someone had told tales on her and I was the tormentor.

I stopped eating normal sized meals for a girl my age and size, how could I eat when my stomach was in knots? I didn’t want to do anything on the weekends or with my family because I knew that if I thought about it whilst at school it would make me want to cry.  I was terrified of not only going to school but also going out in my local area, I started to have panic attacks and my chest hurt constantly from the anxiety. I was admitted to hospital for tests to find out what was wrong with me – it was deemed by the school and by doctors that I had the problem. I saw a child psychologist who would sit and talk to my parents afterwards whilst I tried to read a book in the waiting room. But what could I tell them? I had seen and experienced what happened when she was pulled up on her behaviour and I couldn’t go through that, not again…

Why am I telling you this? Its not for pity, hundreds of thousands of children get bullied at school every year and although specific in its details, my experience is not vastly different from any other. I’m telling you this because I am now 34, I still have blackouts in my memory of school – whole years that I cannot piece together. Since leaving school, I have suffered with anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, nightmares and body dysmorphic disorder which has in turn led to bouts of bulimia and anorexia. I have had various therapies, I have engaged in promiscuous behaviour in order to validate my self-worth, I have found it hard to trust people and I have abandonment issues. I also have Fibromyalgia – which, the causes of which are generally pretty much unknown, but it is thought that the symptoms occur when we have spent vast amounts of time in a ‘fight or flight’ situation.

Image credit: The Mighty

The effects of bullying do not stop once a child leaves school. The effects of sustained bullying can impact whole lives. I do not have a career because of my mental health, and I do not have children either, even though I have dreamed of being a mother for as long as I can remember.

It is only this year – 20 years after I went through these experiences that I recognised, through therapy, that what I had endured constituted trauma. I did not feel safe for years. I wanted to hide and make myself invisible in order the stop the attacks for years. I did not know what to expect every single day for years. I hid my pain from my parents because I couldn’t see the answers or the point in telling them the details for years.  I wanted to do anything to make it stop, including making myself disappear for years.

And then, once I was out of there and away from them, I tried to forget it and move on with my life like any normal person would, for decades.

But it doesn’t work like that. Things have to be dealt with, we cannot just put a lid on it all and expect it to go away. I had been led to believe that my thoughts, feelings and emotions weren’t valid. The norm, for me, was not telling anyone when I was experiencing mental anguish and so therefore when I did get upset, or angry, or depressed, I automatically did not tell anyone and I deemed that normal. I lost my voice and my expression – the only way I had of expressing myself was through writing, and even then I didn’t – and still don’t – want to upset anyone that read it.

I had learnt that if I made myself small, I was ‘safe’. This was founded on nothing, but the wish to disappear but it is still something I aspire to now. It has led to dangerous relationships and damaging friendships with people within the BDSM community where ‘little’ is very often seen as something to aspire to, but not something that will always keep you safe. It has affected my body image, and made me lose even more of my voice and the confidence to express it.

I’ll say it again: The effects of bullying do not stop when a child leaves school.

The voice of the main bully has been replaced with my own; there will be days when the not good enough, pretty enough or clever enough mantra will repeat in my head, in my own voice and I can find all the evidence needed to back those claims up. It becomes very hard to argue against yourself when you have a lifetime of negative associations tied into those claims.

We would be naïve here if we thought that bullying was contained to classrooms and playing fields. It doesn’t just happen to children. It happens to adults too, in workplaces and friendship groups. By colleagues, managers, family members and so-called friends. I have recently left a role where my new manager was a textbook bully – and gaslighter at that. On Friday night, I consoled my colleague who has also just resigned from his management and over the weekend I have felt lost, unheard, sad, angry (I think), unmotivated and very, very low – but I could not put my finger on why.

It was only last night whilst washing up that it came to me – this man, this manager had triggered emotions within me that were felt 20 years ago. Over the last few weeks I have been in fight mode – I quit, I filled out my exit interview form (myself, he didn’t even want my voice to be heard on that), I spoke to friends about it, I felt relieved when my unemployment commenced because I wasn’t in that situation anymore and for a couple of weeks I saw friends, did yoga, made jam, applied for jobs…. all fine and dandy. Until, until I heard about a conversation on Friday where he invalidated my colleague and in invalidating my colleague, he also invalidated the effects of the bullying that led me to quit my job.

He had done exactly what my school bully had done in the deputy heads office all those years ago.

One more time, for those that haven’t quite understood: The effects of bullying do not stop when a child leaves school.

There is a light though, a chink of positivity within all of this – I know how important compassion, inclusivity and validation are. I will never, ever, knowingly exclude someone. I believe firmly in equality and acceptance I will strive to treat everyone the same – regardless of background, gender, wealth, disability or appearance. We all have unique gifts to offer, whether we are quiet or loud or somewhere in between, our voices matter – each and every one of them. I am trying, really trying, with the help of wonderful friends, my husband and my family to realise that I can include myself in that, but at times it is hard. Unpicking decades of ingrained beliefs doesn’t come easy…


If you suspect your child is being bullied, or is the bully then Bulling UK have some wonderful resources that may help.

If you are being bullied, then Relate has some great advice on their website and also offer a confidential chat service.

If you are living with the effects of trauma and its really hard today, then some grounding techniques may help or even some yoga designed with trauma in mind. I did this routine earlier today and it centred around breathing exercises and feeling safe within your body. I can highly recommend it – also, the dog is super cute! 🐶

Original image credit: Paola Chaaya on Unsplash

Thank you for reading If you have enjoyed this writing, please feel free to come and join me on my following social network pages to see my new posts and daily musings:

Instagram ~ Twitter ~ Facebook