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  • Aileen Pound

Is my child suffering from anxiety?

In my last blog, I mentioned that Little Miss M was dealing with a case of situational anxiety, and I want to go a little further into that now. Situational anxiety is a form of anxiety that occurs in response to a specific situation. Unfortunately, COVID has left our little ones with scars we may not fully know about for years to come. If we are lucky, it creeps up early, and we can deal with it. Still, we don't know what the full impact of COVID and lockdowns has had on everyone.

For two and a half years, being unable to see family, trips being cancelled due to lockdowns, and LMM's daddy not always being able to get back from Sydney eventually took its toll on LMM. Strangely though, it was when the borders opened, daddy was coming back regularly, and family were coming to Perth that all of a sudden, it started to hit LMM.

The more consistent things became, the more challenging things got for LMM. First, there were a lot of questions about - what would happen if daddy couldn't get back. What if there's another border closure? What if, what if. It's tough to satisfy a seven-year-old; with it won't happen again when they want concrete answers. Then came the tears and the fear of going to school. Will I be there to pick her up at the end of the day, (I've never missed a day since kindy.) LMM was in hysterics in the morning, not wanting to leave me crying in the back of the car, curled in a ball, shaking and feeling sick. Then she stopped wanting to do her after-school activities, which is not like LMM - she looooves her activities.

Thankfully as it was the week before school was about to stop, it made my next step easier. Firstly I made a doctor's appointment, then I went and saw the dean of students, filled her in on everything and told her LMM was taking the rest of the week off. We planned to be in touch just before school started; it was all about focusing on helping LMM the best way we could.

Over four weeks, we made a lot of progress; the GP referred us to someone for LMM to talk to, and we managed to get in 2 sessions before school started. I was able to ask many questions so that when we got home and back to the reality of school, I was better equipped for whatever came up. I also spoke to the dean of students as organised, and a plan was put in place for it to be easier for LMM to transition back to school. I was able to go to the wellness room (the school has this great room with sensory toys, books, teddies etc., for when a child needs some time to regroup) with her in the morning, give her time to ease her way into school and then when she was ready; she would go to class.

It's been six months since it began, and the difference in LMM is amazing. I am so proud of her for doing what was needed. Likewise, I'm proud of my family for sticking together and staying positive. My mum, particularly, has been a rock for me, never judging LMM or myself or putting blame, looking past the anger and frustration LMM had and projected onto us.

Dealing with anxiety myself, I can tell you first-hand that it's a different ball game when it's your child. At first, you may not recognise the signs; if you don't, don't be hard on yourself. I was in a unique situation in that I knew the signs, but it took a while to find out where it was coming from, even for myself.

Some of the signs you can look out for are:

· Avoiding their favourite activities or large group situations

· Seeking reassurance

· Needing physical contact

· Worrying more than usual about everything

· Not wanting to go to school

· Not wanting to sleep in their bed

· Being shy or nervous around others

· Having a negative outlook on things

· Saying they are being picked on

· Mixed emotions - angry, sad, crying, frustrated, sometimes all at once

· Becoming emotional over seemingly minor situations

· Scared

· Physical symptoms include sore tummy, feeling sick, vomiting, lack of appetite, trouble sleeping, and dizziness.

The above is not a complete list of signs but can be a starter guide. I always recommend going to your GP; even though I thought LMM was suffering anxiety because she was presenting with physical symptoms such as a sore tummy, feeling sick, and sharp shooting in her chest, it is always safer to get everything checked out. As a parent, if you know nothing else is going on, you can put your fears to rest and focus on treating what is happening.

Always one to try and find a positive out of life's stumbling blocks, I don't look at LMM having suffered anxiety as an issue or a hurdle. She may never have another occurrence, however, if it does, she will have the tools needed to work through it, and she has family who knows the tools.

Always remember that looking after your child's mental health is vital, as it can be overlooked, especially when they are young. The more we equip our children to understand their feelings and emotions, the more we equip them to deal with what's happening in their bodies and minds. Hopefully, this makes it easier for them to communicate with us and to identify that something doesn't feel right within them. Also, remember, unlike an adult, children haven't fully learnt to reason yet (in fairness, neither have some adults.) So what might seem like a minor issue to you is the END OF THE WORLD for them!

How can you then deal with your child if they are suffering anxiety? As I've mentioned before, I always feel like it's best to go to the doctors and talk things through with them, however in the interim, you can always try the following:

· If your child is anxious over something, say going to a birthday party, and they are anxious they won't have anyone to play with (this happened to LMM and me.) Firstly, you can let them know you are anxious too because you don't know anyone - this reassures them that it's not just them feeling this way. Ask them what would help them feel less anxious - put a plan in place. If we don't like it in half an hour and we are both not having a good time, we can go - this lets them know that they won't be forced to stay in a situation that makes them anxious, but they have given it a go and faced their fear.

· If they are in the middle of a full-blown anxiety attack, don't try and reason with them; ride it out if possible (or if you have a wellness corner or room at home, ask if they would like to go to that. Once they can communicate calmly, you can talk about what just happened - what they were feeling, do they know why they felt anxious (sometimes children don't know why they worry or are anxious.) what they need from you at that moment.

· A wellness corner, room or area. This has been such a big help in our household, sometimes, LMM will ask to go to the wellness corner herself, and she will colour and read; sometimes, I gently ask if she feels like she wants to go to the wellness corner.

· Mindfulness, in forms of breathing, meditation, yoga, and walking. These are all good things to get your child out of their heads, and if they can learn these tools now, they will be so beneficial in the future - think high school!!! Cosmic kids on youtube are great for yoga for young kids and smiling mind; the app is excellent for breathing and meditation for the whole family.

· Don't force them to do something they don't want to do - give them a choice, and they will feel like they have some control. Obviously, I don't mean the option of going to school or not, but when LMM wanted to take a break from gymnastics which she loves. I put aside the monetary issue (I also didn't mention this to her, as she is worried about enough that she doesn't need the guilt of - do you know how much money that is!) I allowed her to take a break, and when she was ready, she went back to gymnastics.

I hope some of this has helped. When it comes to our children, it can be hard to know if you're doing the right thing by them, and there is so much outside influence putting pressure on parents to get it all right and raise perfect children. The reality is no one is perfect, but you do what you feel is right for you, your child and your family. Sometimes you will get it right; sometimes, you won't.

On a parting note, don't forget to look after your mental health and well-being, most of the time, as parents, we forget to look after ourselves, and we are no good to anyone if we are running mentally, emotionally and physically on low xx

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