How to reduce anxiety in your children – Part 1 of 5 – Introducing our child’s journey to overcoming anxiety

Part 1 - How to reduce anxiety in your children - Introduction

Anxiety in children – and adults – is on the rise and several factors have been proven to contribute to rising anxiety levels. Some of these include excessive screen time, a traumatic event in a child’s life, or there is a family history of anxiety. Last year, my family and I attended four weekly Multi-Family Anxiety Group Sessions (MFAGS) hosted by Step2 CAMHS, as my eldest had been suffering from high anxiety levels for the past few years. After the four sessions, we went away with a toolbox of natural techniques to reduce anxiety in our child at home.

This article is Part 1 of 4 in the series, ‘How to reduce anxiety in your children’, which introduces our situation with our son, who Step2 are, and what to do if your child has anxiety. Subsequent articles will break down certain aspects of anxiety and remedies to help challenge your thoughts so you can practice these techniques at home when you or your child is anxious.

So, in this article, we’re going to talk about:

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So, what happened to our child?

In the last few years, we had noticed our eldest son suffering from increasingly high anxiety levels. Sometimes this anxiety would erupt without any cue, or we could see the build-up of anxiety forming, but we would be unable to stop it. My son wasn’t always an anxious child. In fact, as a baby, he was very calm and tolerant. He hardly cried, except during bedtime, in which case he would fight me tooth and nail. And during nursery, he was, as quoted by his key nursery worker, a very engaging and relaxed boy. At school, somehow, things started to change. We put his change in character down to being in quite a dynamic class, with lots of loud personalities and we thought he was just finding it difficult to cope. We had started to suspect that some teasing had been going on as he didn’t want to go to school anymore, and occasionally he would come up with words that had never been uttered in our house. He was starting to lose focus at school, often being told off for not sitting still on the carpet and receiving frequent timeouts. His anxiety levels began to grow, and in October 2017 we lost our third baby due to a late miscarriage, which exacerbated his anxiety levels from that point. We noticed that he was also unable to express what he was going through which meant all those feelings he had inside were festering without any release. We figured something needed to be done, especially as his sleep was suffering. We would be unable to get him to settle most nights, and it would take upwards of three hours for him to finally settle, often passing out through exhaustion. And he wouldn’t stay asleep either – he would wake up during the night complaining of nightmares and being scared. His fatigue began to spill onto his daily activities and mental development, and this was when we figured something needed to be done NOW.

His school had suggested that we try the medical route to eliminate possibilities of ADHD or Autism, but my gut told me that it was his anxiety levels that had taken a hit due to traumatic incidents that happened previously. But we decided to follow the medical route anyway as a form of elimination. And it did cross our mind that his lack of expression could be down to something underlying. We took him to the GP to initiate the process of the medical route, not having any real idea what this route entailed exactly. But the GP began the process, which involved an initial assessment with us parents and our child at the Peace Children’s Centre in Watford. This meeting’s objective was to get our side of the story about how Aron (8) was suffering and to determine which route was best to take. The paediatrician could see that our son was exhibiting levels of anxiety and advised that we follow the Step2 CAMHs program, which was based more on our child’s emotional psyche and the possibility that he may have ADHD symptoms rather than autism.

I spoke with Andy Collins on BBC3 Counties Radio regarding our process with Step2 CAMHS MFAGS, which you can listen to below:

Aron and I also spoke with the lovely Anna Williamson on BBC3 Counties radio, during the Mental Health Hour and we got to hear Aron’s side of what he learned during the anxiety group session too! You can listen to that conversation below:

Who and what is Step2?

Step2 is an early intervention child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) for children up to 19 years old and operates on the back of written referrals from health professionals for direct family and child support. There is a range of support from bereavement and loss advice to ADHD pre-screening, and as the referral was made to assess Aron for ADHD, this was the next logical step in the process. We were lucky enough to receive a cancellation, and a few months later we spoke to a clinical psychologist who couldn’t spot any autistic or ADHD tendencies. So he deduced that Aron was suffering from high anxiety, which may have been why his sleep and concentration levels were suffering. It was a great appointment, and we learned a lot from it. We were subsequently placed on the waiting list for the MFAGS, and we attended four sessions weekly for about 1 ½ hour each session.

Dr Alison McNaught explains what Step2
CAMHS MFAGS is below on BBC3 Counties Radio:

Did going to MFAGS make a difference?

It absolutely did. What we learned more than anything was that there were options out there for us when we were stuck as to what was going on with our child. People are quite quick to label children with a possible medical disorder, and this may be the case for some of course, but often it can be something more emotional and psychological than that. And, as I learned quite quickly, anxiety and ADHD/autism are intrinsically linked. So, it can become almost impossible to eliminate one without the other. Therefore, I would suggest following as many routes as possible. Step2 aims to figure out the root cause and offer mental health support accordingly. If they find during the process that there is indeed a medical aspect, they will refer back to the medical route for further assessment.

I think my child has anxiety, what should I do?

The first thing to note is that you are not alone. We realised that there are a lot of parents who are dealing with children who have anxiety but do not necessarily have the tools to help them through it. And it is quite normal to feel helpless too. Unfortunately, we parents are not provided with a manual to help us deal with the grey areas of our children’s psyche. So, attending these anxiety group sessions armed us with so many great tools going forward, from how to deal with highly stressful situations to remedies to calm the mind, body and soul. For example, square breathing and mindfulness, as well as tackling worries head-on, are great techniques to deal with worries quickly and overcome them. One of the biggest things we learned during the MFAGS is that we have this natural maternal and paternal need to reassure our kids when they are worried about something. But, our reassurance means that they don’t learn how to deal with that worry and the concern keeps coming back. So, we use tools like the Worry Monster, which helps children to compartmentalise and postpone their worries until a designated worry period, so they are not worrying all the time. The worry period or worry time is where they can talk about their worries freely for a set period. I will go into all these different remedies in subsequent articles.

If your child has anxiety, it’s important to be there for them and make time to really listen. I found that kids will often act out if something is bothering them and rather than labelling them as being naughty, it is more of a cry for help. Be the help, and if you find that it is all over your head, then Step2 can you provide you with the information you need and hold your hand in these situations.

So, what can you expect in subsequent articles?

The following articles will be based on what we learned at the MFAGS. I have also done some extra research through various resources to build on these remedies as well. Here is a breakdown of what you will find in the following articles:

Part 2 of 5 – Understanding anxiety and its impact on our body

  • What is anxiety?
  • Understanding anxiety and its impact on the body
  • What causes or contributes to anxiety?
  • Where we feel anxiety
  • Problem-solving your worries
  • The brain box – What happens to our brain when we experience anxiety
  • Breathing exercises
  • Relaxation stories
  • Link to the article here: Understanding anxiety and its impact on the body

Part 3 of 5 – What maintains anxiety?

  • Thinking errors
  • Taking your thoughts to court
  • Our behaviour when we’re anxious
  • Link to article here: What maintains anxiety?

Part 4 of 5 – Learning how to manage our anxiety

  • Problem-solving our thoughts
  • Postponing your worries until worry time
  • Worry box
  • Worry Time
  • Flowchart
  • Mindfulness
  • Mindfulness exercises for children
  • Link to article here: Learning how to manage our anxiety

Part 5 of 5 – Specific strategies to stop avoiding your worries

I hope you learned something from this introductory article. Click on to the 2nd article here, which talks about understanding anxiety and its impact on the body.

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Leyla Preston (590 Posts)

Leyla Preston is the owner and Editor of Motherhood Diaries global magazine for parents. Leyla is a busy mother of two even busier boys; Aron, 8, and Aidan, 7. When Leyla isn’t feeding, managing a gazillion tasks or cleaning the infinite mess at home, she is busy working on this magazine and a new cooking channel coming very soon – no rest for the wicked! You can follow Leyla on Twitter (@M_Diaries) or join the busy Motherhood Diaries Facebook group where all mums get together and share stories and solutions with one another: