There are many reasons why children can become anxious and most children will face anxiety at some point in their childhood. Whether it is a change to their routine, environment, relationship or whether they have had their confidence knocked, it is important to show them that you love and value them for who they are and not for what they can do.
Children, for the first 4 years of their life, need to be in a nurturing environment with little stress around them, in order for them to grow up being socially confident in themselves and be able to manage stress. They are also more able to form better relationships with siblings and peers being able to see their points of view, or at least understand why they do what they do. Although this may come as they get older.
A degree of stress is a natural part of growing up, but prolonged stress is known to reduce memory and affect their ability to learn. As parents, we need to nurture their skills and celebrate who they are. To do this it would help if we can give our children descriptive praise. ‘I like the way you have coloured your picture’ or ‘I noticed that you put your bowl in the dishwasher’ and acknowledge when they have found something hard to do by empathising with their feelings, ‘That must have been hard for you to have done, I’m proud of you.’ This shows your child that you have noticed and your praise will encourage them to try it again. Encouraging your child to give detailed praise to others, ‘What did you like about the way your brother …’ or to give detailed praise about themselves, ‘I thought I did really well when I …’ is equally beneficial.
It is important too, to encourage your child to reflect on what happens when something goes wrong. They may need adult support here to prompt this type of conversation, but it is very valuable, especially if they are to learn from the experience. Children, during their childhood need to be comfortable with a range of emotions and be able to build emotional resilience. This can be hard for them, it is for some adults too! The other aspect to understand, is that, children’s emotions and how they express them are developmental and partially determined by how they see others around them deal with their emotions. This could be family members, peers or cultural. If you scream and shout when you are stressed, then your child, who witnesses your reactions will consider this behaviour the norm and will copy it in times of their own stress or anxiety. Everyone is different and everyone’s level of stress or what makes them anxious will depend on their temperament. Where some thrive on stressful situations to push them further to succeed, others may find it scary and not be able to cope. It really is unique to the child, hence understanding themselves and their emotions is key.
Communication with your child is paramount. So many children these days feel like nobody listens to them or notices what they do. It can be hard for a child to ‘sing their own praises’ so we must ask them what they have done during their day at school without pressure and give them genuine, realistic and specific praise. Remember, children can spot when praise isn’t genuine a mile away!
Most importantly however, we must demonstrate that we value our children for the unique child they are and celebrate their strengths and successes. We need to give them clear evidence that we respect and love them too, no matter what.