6 June 2022

Understanding Anxiety From A Child's Perspective

By: Jade Lake

What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions. Feeling anxious is normal for everyone; we all experience anxiety within our lives. It’s a feeling within our bodies and its job is to keep us safe and to warn us when there is a perceived threat. Anxiety is uncomfortable, which is deliberate so that we take heed of it and listen to what our body is telling us. The anxious feeling can differ in intensity, from a mild discomfort through to a more severe, more intense, and more frequent feeling.

Anxiety becomes a disorder and a cause for concern when the severity has increased to a point where it impacts daily life; in children for example, anxiety can affect their schoolwork, their engagement in social activities with others and could also affect their friendships and relationships.

How Anxiety Presents
Anxiety is unique and so is everybody’s journey and being, and as such, anxiety can present itself in various ways. It is important to be aware of these signs so that you can recognise when someone is feeling anxious and be able to support them through it as necessary, but with the understanding that we all respond differently to certain things.

Within the body, you can feel hot and sweaty, you can get clammy skin, you may need to use the loo more frequently, you can feel nervous and hyper-aroused. From a child’s perspective, anxiety can present in their behaviour; they may worry a lot about things, they fidget and move around, they are full of self-doubt, they can be critical of themselves and others and they are often perfectionists.

There are also different types of anxiety, and it can show up in different forms. For example, in OCD (where people demonstrate ritualistic behaviours such as frequent hand washing), panic attacks (the symptoms, when severe, can feel like a heart attack) and also phobias (i.e. fear of spiders).

What Causes Anxiety
There is not just one single route cause to anxiety in children and young people. Every individual has a life-lived, a journey. And because of this, we all respond differently to events. We may experience a death of a loved one; I, myself, may respond in an upset and grief-stricken way, whilst others may deal with the situation better given their strong resilience and impact that their support system has around them.

We can however aim to understand the risk factors that can be associated with anxiety, and which may cause a child to feel anxious. These include things such as the Covid-19 pandemic where there was a rise in anxiety-related illnesses within schools, the child’s experience of domestic abuse and even going through puberty which can be a great pressure on young people. Many things can cause feelings of anxiety, so it is important to be aware of this when you are working with them.

How to Support Children with Anxiety
Techniques that can be discreetly used anywhere and at any time can be effective for a child. The strategies below help their body and brain to feel safe and calm again.

  • Flip the Lid - Support the child by increasing their understanding of the topic and their inner self; using ‘Flip the Lid’ model (by Dr Siegal) to teach children how their body and brain work together is a great strategy to help them bring themselves back to a calm feeling.
  • Co-Regulation - Being a grounded, safe adult is the greatest resource we can offer to children. Children want to feel safe and calm so they will look to the adult in times of need. Children are receptive and will tune in with a calming adult so by giving them a safe place with a safe person will allow them to open and engage how they are feeling. When children are comfortable with co-regulation and healing together, they can learn how to self-regulate.
  • Be Curious and Responsive – You must acknowledge and check in with the child, asking them what they need. Acknowledge that their feelings matter, and you will be there whilst they ride the wave.
  • Breathing – Simple breathing exercises help regulate the brain and body ‘deep breath in, hold, and exhale’.
  • App Support – Children can access help privately on their phones or desktop which allows them to express how they are feeling and seek support. Recommended apps include Headspace, Calm and Kooth.

Healing Together
Currently children are not able to access the early help and support they need due to pressures on national services such as CAMHS, and many alternative services do not feel skilled enough to provide the interventions themselves.

The Healing Together Facilitators Training upskills those working with children and young people to confidently deliver trauma informed early interventions in a space the children feel safe, as part of their current role.

Our impact data shows that over 95% of people we have trained are more likely to adopt a trauma informed approach to the rest of their work, benefitting the children that need it the most.

 For more information about our Healing Together Programme or training to be a facilitator, visit the website here:

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