How to identify anxiety in children

By IOL Reporter Time of article published Apr 30, 2021

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THE past year has seen an increase in the prevalence of anxiety among children. However, identifying its signs is a challenge.

The Covid-19 pandemic has made a big impact on children's lives. They were put under pressure when schools closed during the hard lockdown and found themselves until more stress with the introduction of precautionary safety measures against the virus.

Psychology of education expert Dr Jacques Mostert warns that anxiety should not to be dismissed or taken lightly.

He offers advice on the steps parents and teachers can take to ensure they spot the red flags and respond appropriately.

“Teachers and parents can recognise the onset of anxiety when a sudden change in behaviour becomes apparent and continues for at least three weeks or longer,” says Mostert.

Some of the red flags:

  • Inattention and restlessness.
  • Attendance problems and clingy children.
  • Disruptive behaviour that is not typical of the young person.
  • Trouble answering questions in class.
  • An increase in problems generally, which could include a marked downturn in academic performance in certain subjects where there wasn’t a problem.
  • An avoidance of socialising or group work.

“Anxiety is your body’s normal reaction to perceived danger or important events,” Mostert says. “It is like your body’s internal alarm system that is set to alert you of dangers that may be life threatening and it helps your body to prepare to deal with danger.

“However, your internal alarm is not very good at recognising whether the danger you may face is indeed life threatening or not. For example, your body reacts by becoming nervous about being late to school and seeing a big spider in the bathroom in the same way. Neither are likely to cause real damage, yet your body remains alert and ready to run away in either case.”

He says feeling nervous and anxious are normal emotions and can be expected during times of transition and change.

Parents who are have noticed the symptoms persisting for weeks need to start tackling the problem at home, as the first line of response.

“Routine is key in this,” says Mostert. “The first important step is to reinstate regular routines, including in the morning and evening.

“Nobody copes well when they are tired or hungry. Anxious children often don’t feel like eating breakfast, they might not feel hungry, or become nauseous after eating breakfast, so start making sure that your child gets back in the habit of getting some nutrition before heading to school.

“Also, make sure that your child wakes up early enough to avoid rushing to get to school. This, of course, means that you must ensure that your child goes to bed early enough, at a regular time. If your child spends hours before going to sleep on a device or social media, this is a habit that needs to end. It is not healthy for children or adults, for that matter.”

Practical ways to deal with anxiety:

  • Practise deep breathing.
  • Take a break and go outside.
  • Talk about anxiety openly and objectively.
  • Get moving, walking and talking.
  • Practise positive thinking and keep a gratitude journal.
  • Try to eat as healthy as possible and drink enough water.

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