Anxiety in Children & Teenagers
Updated: Feb 17
In light of recent events including the Covid Pandemic, which caused massive disruption to most children's usual routines, and now with the ongoing crisis with Russia and the Ukraine, which is well covered in the media and a subject adults speak about regularly, it’s a poignant time to address anxiety in children related to these events, which they can pick up on and become overly focused on and worried about.
Symptoms of Anxiety You know your children, so you’ll more than likely have a gut feeling that something isn’t quite right. You also may be anxious yourself.
Here are a few signs to look out for in your child:
Finding concentration difficult
Unable to sleep or regular waking in the night with bad dreams
Issues with eating
Playing up, getting upset, angry or irritable
Having uncontrollable outbursts or mood swings
Having bowel issues / toilet problems
Having tummy aches and feeling poorly
Using excuses of feeling poorly to avoid school or going out
Being very clingy to loved ones
Telling you they are scared or upset about events
Here are some great ideas to look at implementing with your young ones if they are expressing any of the symptoms above.
A regular bedtime or evening routine really does regulate normality and induce feelings of security and comfort.
No screens 1-2hrs before bed
Turn those screens off to reduce stimulation and blue screen. It’s scientifically proven that screens prevent melatonin production, and depending on what’s on those screens, what is being watched may create further anxiety. Searching up more information online for things that cause anxiety can, of course, cause further worry.
Dimming the lights is also extremely beneficial for inducing sleep time.
Be mindful of what they see and hear
Children and young people usually have access to a range of media in the form of social media, as well as hearing news on the radio in the car or round the house, and background TV. Try to be careful about what what they can hear and try to save watching the news for when they are in bed.
Reading to Relax
Not all children and young people (or adults even) are natural born readers, or love books. But if they can find something they can get into and you can advocate it as an alternative to screen time, then it really is beneficial. It’s sleep inducing and it is a great escape into fantasy and a happy place! Plus, it’s great educationally too and a wonderful opportunity to create bonding time if your little ones are young enough to read with, or to.
Make your ‘’Worry Talk Time’’ well before bedtime!
Try to avoid communicating about these worrying matters close to bedtime. It’s best to leave that for earlier in the day, so that you’re just focusing on positivity and happiness for a peaceful and rested bedtime, and so that what’s at the forefront of their mind is positive.
Weighted Blankets or Lighter Duvets?
A sleep cover, whatever it is, can be a huge comfort – but it must be right and work within the preferences of the child. As we always say, all children are different – in fact all of us are different! So, whether it’s a weighted blanket, or a lighter one, see what works for them.
There’s a big buzz around weighted blankets offering a feeling of security especially for those who are anxious or have sensory differences and you can find more about that here: https://www.todaysparent.com/family/special-needs/everything-you-need-to-know-about-weighted-blankets/
Be careful not to use weighted blankets with children under the age of 5 and it is always best to use them with caution or with guidance from an Occupational Therapist or medical professional. It is important to not use a weighted blanket that is too heavy.
Some children prefer less weight, or need to be able to fidget around so a sensory compression sheet can be worth trying, https://allthingssensory.co.uk/products/sensory-compression-sheets these are lightweight (usually nylon and spandex) but still give some gentle pressure feedback which can be helpful.
Dream Catchers – What’s That?!
Whether you’re spiritual or not, it’s sometimes just the placebo idea of something and the concept behind it that makes it work. Originating from Native America, the most common idea behind a dream catcher comes from the Ojibwe Tribe. They are said to filter out bad dreams and visions, which offers protection from nightmares, and anything evil and negative, capturing all the good dreams and letting all the bad ones pass. Hanging dream catchers in your childs room can give them the feeling of security and a focus point, as the gentle movement of the feathers in a breeze can be mesmerising and can induce sleepy feelings.
Choosing bedding & Cosy Cushions
It might sound like common sense, but great bedding and comfy bedding is so important, whatever age! We do promote very safe sleep for tiny ones, (which you can find out more about here https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/safer-sleep-advice/mattresses-and-bedding/) but in older children, good, comfortable bedding, which is firm, with the right amount of comfy pillow support is a great help! Giving your child some freedom to choose their bedding and decorative cushions can help them feel involved in creating a lovely safe space they want to spend time in.
Worry Jar / Monster
On paper or emotionally, there are several ways to get children’s worry out, but a couple of common useful ones are using the worry jar, or the worry monster. The Worry Jar is a jar that your younger ones can write down their worries where they can dispel them and not think about them anymore. The process of writing things down is therapeutic and symbolises letting a worry go. For children, containing worries in a jar could free them from having to replay those concerns in their minds. A worry monster works in a similar way. It’s typically a plush toy designed for a child to discuss their anxieties and worries, which in turn helps supress those feelings. Worries can be drawn or written on a piece of paper, then fed to their worry monster. Once ‘’eaten’’ that worry can be picked up by an adult and actioned.
As previously mentioned, the process and concept of writing something on paper can be beneficial in processing these feelings. Did you ever keep a diary as a teenager? You might still now? A private place to share and confess all the struggles and fears you experienced, whilst recording memories, without any judgement. Getting things out of your head and on to paper seems to help clear the brain fog. This process is now known as ‘’journaling’’, which a great way of improving mental health and processing your emotions to reflect and understand them.
Plenty of Exercise & Mental Stimulation during the day It's been proven time and time again that exercise is fantastic for mental health, and can reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. It’s sometimes difficult to overcome taking the initial step of doing exercise, but there are so many benefits of engaging with exercise (even if it’s only half an hour a day). Try doing something with your child. Find something you both enjoy, be it a walk in the fresh air, an aerobics class, a jump at the local trampoline park, some jogging or kicking a football around the garden. Anything goes - be creative! *Top tip – don’t raise those endorphins too close to bedtime! It can be hard to wind down and switch off straight after exercise so try to leave a gap of at least 1 - 2 hours if you can. Mental stimulation is always best during the day and has a positive effect on mental health for all ages. This can be anything from learning a new language, playing brain games such as Suduko, Arrow Words, Wordle … the range of Apps available are endless, as well as doing puzzles, learning a musical instrument or even socialising with people. All these things help to break the cycle of anxiety and re-circuit the brain away from it.
Appropriate Boundaries and Limits
Children actually find having boundaries and limits very reassuring, as it helps them to predict what will happen next and also know what the expectations of them are. Boundaries can help children and young people feel safe (therefore reducing anxiety), and can help them to learn how to set acceptable boundaries themselves as they grow and begin to become more independent.
Mindfulness and meditation are also research supported processes that are proven to improve anxiety. Mindfulness means to pay focussed attention to the present moment without judgement. It's not a religious process. It's a way of paying attention using breath and can be achieved via various different processes such as walking, listening to music or dancing, whilst maintaining focus. Meditating goes hand in hand with mindfulness. Meditation teaches children skills including self-awareness and self-management and they learn to digest them in a healthy way.
I thoroughly recommend Claire Cogan https://www.clarecogan.com who specialises in working with children and teenagers using a range of tools, including hypnotherapy. I also highly recommend counsellor Helen Evans who also works with many teens and young people experiencing anxiety and worry https://seedwellness.co.uk/helenevans/
Other beneficial Cost-Free Resources are:
The Mindful Movement meditations
Great with a huge range on You Tube:
For an overthinking/overactive mind:
Meditate Me (mindfulness)
A free App that children often like:
If you would like further support, please contact me! Or please visit www.sweetdreamssleepcoaching.co.uk/book-online to book a consultation and bespoke sleep coaching package tailored specifically to your family's needs and parenting style.