Anxiety in children needs calm understanding and reassurance
Anxiety is just one way exposure to trauma can manifest itself in children in out-of-home care.
Your child might be agitated, restless, throw tantrums, refuse to go places or avoid difficult situations. These are all signs they may be experiencing anxiety.
“The most important thing you can do to support a child with anxiety is to recognise these behaviours as anxiety and not misbehaviour,” says Cynthia Mifsud, Manager of Specialist Psychology Services at the Department of Family and Community Services.
How to help
As a carer there are things you can do to help.
Staying calm is very important.
Understanding what’s behind anxiety may also assist a carer when dealing with the situation, says Cynthia.
“Anxiety is the brain’s way of keeping us safe. A fight or flight response is normal in humans in the presence of perceived risk. When the anxiety response is triggered it may cause someone to try to avoid similar situations in future,” says Cynthia
“Children in OOHC may have had past traumatic experiences that affect their ability to regulate the fear response and other emotions. So you need to understand anxiety may be more difficult for them to manage.”
During a state of anxiety or panic a child has trouble reasoning, so get them to manage their bodily feelings first through slow deep breathing or muscle tension exercises, Cynthia says. “Then when they are calmer encourage them to talk about their fears and explore different ways to think about the problem.”
Don’t force the child into a situation they fear, to face their fear, she says. This can make things worse.
A better way is to support the child to recognise their fear and encourage them to face a small part of what they fear.
If anxiety continues to impact your child’s day-to-day functioning and persists it’s a good idea to get professional help.
A psychologist can help support children with appropriate interventions. Literature suggests that the use of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) can help with anxiety. If necessary, a child psychiatrist or paediatrician may recommend medication.