What to do if your child is experiencing anxiety

  • 26/03/2018

Parenting is a tough gig, but it's made all the more difficult when you learn your child may be battling with anxiety.

To kick off The Project's anxiety week, the show looked at the struggles faced by children suffering with the mental health issue in New Zealand.

Child psychologist Dr Emma Woodward said there is a clear difference between anxiety and ordinary childlike behaviour.

"If your child is beginning to avoid situations they were previously excited about or if they are beginning to avoid situations that you feel like they typically would have done before, then you'd probably start questioning whether anxiety is at play," she told The Project.

So what should you do if you think your child is experiencing anxiety?

"If you're worried about anxiety...speak with your GP or have a look online and see if there's a psychologist near you, and call people up and have a chat with them and see if you connect with them.

"See if they have a similar philosophy to you in their approach to parenting and supporting children."

Dr Woodward said Kiwis have a problem with expecting children to simply harden up.

"How can you expect something to go away if you don't confront it, if you don't firstly acknowledge that it's there and then teach the skills to confront it and manage it?" she asked.

"Teaching children that they can manage their anxiety and teaching the skills that they can move through their anxiety... is the way that they can overcome anxiety."

Her message for parents who are raising children with anxiety is "keep doing what you're doing".

"You can only do what you can do, your job is to be a support, to be a guide, to support your child in managing their anxiety," Dr Woodward said.

"Not remove the anxiety, but teach them that they have the capacity within themselves to overcome that anxiety."

Dr Woodward said the hardest part of her job is watching what children go through before they seek out professional help.

An estimated 12 percent of Kiwi kids will experience anxiety that could impact their learning and development.

Anxiety in children can be triggered by a life event such as divorce, death or an earthquake, and it can also be an unwanted symptom of a busy modern life.

It can be made worse by poverty and instability at home; frequently moving house means kids aren't so connected to those around them.

For older children, growing up and learning about the world can be overwhelming.