Hello! Welcome back to HeadStart For Life’s blog, Beyond Therapy!
Chinese New Year has been celebrated, adults gone back to work and children back to school. Times flies and we just entered into March! With the holidays behind us, we are now getting a proper start to the work and school year.
Recently, my interest lies with the topic of anxiety in children. As we know, in this digital age, the use of all kinds of gadgets has made our life easy and convenient. However, technology also causes some side-effects because of its instantaneity. Apart from the factors of genes and personality, stress management, and life experiences, anxiety seems to be the price of this advancement of technology.
I came across some books about anxious children and co-morbid anxiety disorders for children with autism spectrum disorder. And I have summarised five strategies to help and guide anxious children to reduce stress or anxiety. Let’s have a look.
Here are some practical strategies that we can use to reduce stress or anxiety.
It is suggested that it is good to pre-empt children on possible and future changes to help your child understand and know what is going to happen.
You might know your child fairly well – know and understand the triggers of their stress and anxiety. This way, you can try to avoid having those triggers in certain circumstances. To help you understand your child better, you can use the ABC chart – Antecedent, Behaviour, and Consequences to plan the best response.
For instance, record the factors that cause a particular episode of anxiety (Antecedent), observe how your child behaved as a response to the antecedent (Behaviour), and observe the response of others towards your child’s behaviour (Consequences). The consequences will shape what your child will do the next time a similar situation occurs.
Establish structure and routine within your child’s daily timetable.
This will help them to be clear about what will happen and when to happen. Having a routine means that your child is always able to know what is coming next. When structures provide a consistent framework for children, they can predict what is coming next, and consequently, this helps them to stay calm. For example, in the morning, they will have breakfast and get dressed every at 8 o’clock. Once they know that they will do this predictable action every day, they will be able to do the activities calmly.
Help your child understand about a new situation in advance as much as possible.
You can explain it using Social Stories or any form of visual aids. Try to keep your verbal instructions short and simple and remember to give them time to process the information. For example, you can give them a careful explanation about how to buy food at the canteen, how to take public transport and others. Once they have an idea about the uncertainty, this will help them reduce their stress level.
Without careful observation and in-depth understanding, there are a lot of factors from the environment that constantly influence our children.
We might need to look at all the sensory modalities that can affect our children. These sensory modalities are auditory (hearing), visual (sight), olfactory (smell), tactile (touch), gustatory (taste), vestibular (sense of balance) and proprioception (sense of body position). Are our children sensitive in any kind of sounds that might cause them distress? Are our children overwhelmed by any smell? If there is anything that is out of their range of tolerance, some modifications in the environment can be helpful for them.
Sleep, hunger and thirst are the physical needs that we need to pay attention to. As these can also be a reason for the stress or anxiety of our children.
These elements might not be the primary cause of your child’s anxiety but they will potentially escalate the problem and deteriorate the situation. Being overly tired or too hungry will make an anxious child feel worse. So, help them to have a good night sleep by keeping bedtime and waking-up time around the same time every day. Make sure to have a wind-down period for an hour before bedtime. For their diet, avoid something sugary (e.g. sweets, chocolate bar, fizzy drinks) as these foods eventually cause low blood sugar and subsequently will make the anxiety even worse.
I hope these strategies will be helpful for you to have some ideas on how to prevent and handle the situation. As every child is different, you might want to modify the strategy to suit one child the best. Or, you can always seek professional support if necessary
Cartwright-Hatton, S. (2007). Coping with an anxious or depressed child. England: Oneworld Publications.
Karim, K., Ali, A. & O’Reilly, M. (2014). A practical guide to mental health problems in children with autistic spectrum disorder. UK: JKP.