• As many as 1/12 children struggle with poor mental health, the most common problem being anxiety

  • If your child is anxious, therapist Louise Coyle has five simple tips that you can try to support them

  • If anxiety is a long-term issue for your child, find a therapist here

A parent can only ever be as happy as their unhappiest child – true or untrue? For many parents, it is at least partly true. When one of our children is suffering, it absolutely cuts to the quick, especially when we can’t ‘fix’ it for them.

How many children do suffer from anxiety?

Statistics from an NHS survey (carried out in 2017) showed that around one in 12 children aged between five and 19 years were suffering an emotional disorder, and the most common disorder was anxiety. The survey showed that there has been an increase over the past few years rising from just under 10 per cent of children in 1999 to just over 10 per cent in 2004 and just over 11 per cent in 2017.

However, emotional disorders reach a peak in children aged between 17 and 19 years, with nearly eight per cent of boys suffering but a massive 22 per cent of girls – as high as one in four!

As a parent, how can I help?

Firstly, try and understand what they are going through, whether it is anxiety about exams, bullying, friendship issues, body issues, whatever it is. Think about how you feel during stressful times and how it makes you react? Do you get snappy? Find your tolerance is low for even the little things? Just putting yourself in your anxious child’s shoes and talking about learning to manage stressful situations will show them you understand. Sometimes it takes time for your child to open up about how they are feeling so just spending unstructured time together can help. Try talking during car journeys rather than sitting down for ‘a talk’. The latter can add unnecessary pressure!

Have you ever thought about how you deal with stress and anxiety yourself? What type of role model are you providing? Do you allow stress to build and build until you explode? Do you put yourself at the back of the queue when it comes to prioritising mental wellbeing?

Showing your child that you are prepared to take care of your own mental health, to learn how to manage stress more effectively and how to tackle unhelpful patterns of thinking gives a very strong message that these issues can improve, there is hope.

A very interesting new approach has shown that it may not be necessary for primary aged children to see a therapist themselves in order to benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). They seem to get as much benefit from being shown how to look at thoughts and behaviour from their parent – so only the parent needs to see the therapist! Simply explaining what anxiety is, why we feel the emotions and sensations that we do can help to demystify something scary.

But all children are likely to go through times in their life when they feel anxious – whether or not it develops into a more longstanding problem. There are some life rules that help all of us to manage stress and anxiety better so teaching our children these will help build their resilience for the future.

1) Get enough sleep

Ways of improving sleep include getting outdoor exercise during the day, limiting screen time for a couple of hours before bedtime and allowing time to wind down from school work, for example, ensuring the bedroom is dark, trying to maintain a consistent bedtime.

2) Think about the food 

As always, try to ensure they eat plenty of health fruit, vegetables and protein.

3) Incorporate exercise into their routine

Is there a sport that they love? Try and help them to find their ‘thing’. Don’t let this fall by the wayside because of school pressure.

4) Be a fearless, have-a-go parent

Think about reframing things. Present potentially scary challenges as exciting! Show your child that you relish a challenge and it doesn’t matter whether you succeed, it’s more important to have done something.

5) Recharge your children as you do your phone

Spend time with them. Give them the message that they are worth spending time with. Give them space and time to tell you what worries they have before they develop into major issues. Give them the opportunity to spend time with other interested adults as well – perhaps an uncle, grandparent. Time spent with an interested adult is amazingly powerful for a child.

Louise Coyle is a verified welldoing.org therapist in W4 & TW1

Further reading

Meet the therapist: Louise Coyle

How to support a child who self-harms

Does your child have body image issues?

Does my child need therapy?

Helping your child develop a healthy relationship with food