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The anxious or worried child

It’s quite natural for children to worry and to be anxious at various stages of school and home life.

Most children will learn how to manage their thoughts, feelings and emotions, but some may need extra support.

Anxiety can become a problem when:

  • there isn’t a clear reason for it
  • it disrupts a young person’s life at home or school on a regular basis
  • the problem has gone but the feeling of fear or panic hasn’t
  • it interferes with their ability to take part in activities
  • they struggle to complete tasks that other children do easily
  • their fear or worry seems out of proportion to the problem
  • they become anxious or fearful more easily, or more often, or more intensely than other children
  • it leads to unhelpful and unrealistic thoughts about themselves and others

Spotting the signs

A child with an anxiety disorder may display physical and emotional symptoms including:

  • headaches and stomach aches or just feeling unwell
  • dizziness/faintness/palpitations/ breathlessness /sweating
  • not sleeping
  • not eating properly
  • being clingy/feeling panicky/tearful
  • seeming to be worried or anxious and needing lots of reassurance
  • feeling down or depressed
  • having difficulty concentrating
  • wanting things to be perfect and getting frustrated if they’re not
  • lashing out at others
  • hyper-alertness and difficulty keeping still

Find out more about common anxiety disorders in children

MindEd is a free educational e-learning resource for professionals on children and young people’s mental health. The following sessions aim to help staff better understand how anxiety affects children:

  • The worried child: describes anxiety and worry in children and teens and discusses how to react to them.
  • Anxiety disorders: outlines how common anxieties present in children and young people, and how to assess and treat them.

Please note: Although resources may reference secondary school children, information is still of use to those in primary settings.

Top Tips

1

Explore ways to help a child cope with their anxieties and worries.

Try working together to test out fears gradually - setting small, specific goals (for example, speaking to a small group in their class and then building up perhaps to a larger group).

2

Stay calm, supportive and practical.

Try not to get drawn into a child’s emotions. Praise and reward small (and big) successes when a child faces their fears. It can help them if you remain positive and encouraging, without forcing them into anything.

3

Focus on what helps.

Instead of trying to reassure a child that nothing bad will happen, focus on what helped them cope when they faced a similar situation. Help a child think through what they have learned about their fears and about themselves. Did their worry come true? Did they cope?

What schools can do

A number of universal and targeted school-based programmes are proven to help prevent children being overwhelmed by anxiety and to learn effective coping skills.

But some children need a little extra help, either through school pastoral care/counselling support, through referral to the school nurse or through referral to community-based support.

Concerned about a child?

If you are worried that a child is at risk involve your designated safeguarding lead as a matter of priority who will contact the parents/carers and other services as necessary. If the child is at immediate risk, ensure that they are taken to their GP or A&E as a matter of urgency, depending on the severity of the concern.

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Resources

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MindEd for families

MindEd for families

An online learning portal with advice on answering parents’ questions about their child’s mental...

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Family Lives helpline

Family Lives helpline

Confidential and free helpline offering advice, guidance and support on any aspect of parenting and...

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YoungMinds Parents' Helpline

YoungMinds Parents' Helpline

Free, confidential and expert advice for parents, carers and guardians.

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YoungMinds Parents' Survival Guide

YoungMinds Parents' Survival Guide

Webpage covering most concerns about child/youth mental health, with information on specific issues...

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MindEd: parenting a child with issues

MindEd: parenting a child with issues

MindEd is a free educational resource on children and young people's mental health for all adults.

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Childline helpline

Childline helpline

Free online messaging, counselling and helpline service for children.

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Childline toolbox

Childline toolbox

Toolbox of games and activities (e.g. a wall of expression) which help children articulate how they...

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Q&A - supporting an anxious or worried child

Q&A - supporting an anxious or worried child

Online Q&A session with school staff.

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