Many children experience feelings of anxiety. They may:
- Experiencing excessive distress when separated from parents
- Worry that something bad will happen
- Have nightmares of separation which can causes difficulty around bed time if they are reluctant to go to sleep
- Worry about parents or that something will happen that may lead to a separation from parents
Anxiety and fear of separation may also be a reason that a child does not want to go to school and he or she may complain of physical symptoms in anticipation of, or when separation occurs.
Most children ‘grow out of’ anxiety and it is necessary to consider other factors such as the child’s temperament and attachment and whether there have been any significant changes in their lives such as a recent bereavement. It is important to ensure there is stability and routine and to take the time to talk to anxious children about their feelings.
Anxiety that is not related to separation from care-givers is more generalised and is also indicated by excessive and persistent worry. In school the concern may be centred on a specific activity or on academic performance and the pupil will find it difficult to control the worrying thoughts.
Anxiety may be indicated if a pupil has difficulty in concentrating, is feeling tired and irritable, and experiencing sleep disturbance. Other forms of anxiety disorder include specific phobias: many children with anxiety disorders have more than one.
Ways to support children and young people experiencing anxiety
- For illogical fears that are not quite phobias, simple explanations and reassurance will help many children gradually get over them
- Look to other agencies for interventions e.g. Educational Psychologists if anxiety is about school, social workers if about home life
- Talk to children and their parents to understand how the problem has developed. This should include enquiring about the relationship between parent and child, concerns regarding school and friends etc.
- Help children talk through their anxieties using drawing or play
- Specific fears are usually treated by helping children confront their fear in a way and at a pace that they can manage