Is your child anxious?


A lot of people have fears and worries in life. These are natural feelings we all experience time and again. However, for some people, these fears and worries dictate how they live life. They govern their choices which influences their behaviour. Anxiety is the inability to deal with a fear or worry about something in the future. Ironically, most of these negative impressions are formed in a child’s formative years. Anxiety can be debilitating and can often lead to depression.

Anxiety in children

There are several ways in which anxiety manifests in children and different children respond differently. Some commonly observed symptoms are:

  • Disturbed sleep
  • Inability to focus, avoiding tests or procrastination.
  • Panic Attacks
  • Profuse sweating, restlessness, and palpitations
  • An upset stomach, headaches
  • Being extremely needy
  • Avoiding social settings

What causes Anxiety?

Now that we have understood what anxiety is and what it looks like, let us spend some time understanding what causes anxiety.

  • Some children are just born with a low threshold to deal with negative emotions and are extra sensitive to stimuli around them.
  • At times children learn anxious behaviours from people around them. “Children see, children do.”
  • Anxiety can be caused by certain stressful or traumatic events in life:

    • High expectations from parents
    • Being bullied in school
    • Experiencing physical or verbal abuse or being neglected at home.
    • Being beat up for scoring fewer marks / failing a test or exam
    • Frequently moving houses
    • Death of a close family member or friend
    • Being involved in a serious accident
    • Not being able to do things quickly or as effectively as other children. (Especially in children with learning disabilities)

Children with learning disabilities or ADHD are more likely to feel anxious than others. So much of the working memory of these children is spent on making sense of what is happening around them or occupied with irrelevant noise and distractions that it becomes hard for them to self-regulate and problem solve.

Tips to handle anxiety.

Anxiety is not like an infection that can be cured with antibiotics. Anxiety is more like a common cold; it comes with time to time and again. One cannot cure it with medication but simply manage it as best as possible while it lasts. Often parents want to cure their children of anxiety but sadly that is not how it works.

There are a few things that are critical to an understanding before you can try and manage your child’s anxiety:

  1. Anxiety is usually triggered by a certain thought, feeling or event; it can be different things for different people.
  2. Anxiety is usually about something in the future.
  3. Anxiety releases two hormones in our body: Cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol is the stress hormone and adrenaline triggers the fight or flight response in the body.

Handling anxiety – General strategies

The key to manage anxiety is doing these three things:

  1. Bring the child back to the present moment
  2. Trigger the parasympathetic nervous system in the body
  3. Exercise and physical activity

Bring the child back to the “here and now” (present moment).

When anxiety sets in, our thoughts are predominantly about the future. Get your child to come back to the here and now by doing this simple “location exercise”.

Ask them to describe what they see around them. For example – “The table is on my right, there is a fan above me, I’m sitting on the floor so on and so forth.” This ensures the future thinking stops and the child comes back to the “here and now”.

Trigger the parasympathetic nervous system in the body.

The parasympathetic nervous system undoes the work of the sympathetic nervous system which gets triggered by anxiety or stress. A simple thing one can do to activate the parasympathetic nervous system is      deep breathing: an underrated yet extremely effective way to manage anxiety.


Any kind of intense physical activity releases endorphins and dopamine which are the happy hormones and automatically reduces cortisol levels in the bloodstream.

Handling anxiety in children under ten

Other than the strategies touched above, the below two strategies work well for younger children.

Physical touch

Physical touch from a parent offers the child immense comfort and much-needed oxytocin, again a feel-good hormone. Hugging your child, applying pressure on them with blankets also works great. It releases the anxiety and gives relief to their mind.

Divert their attention

Keep picture books, colouring books or toys around for them to immediately divert their attention.

Handling anxiety – children with Autism

Quiet time

Quiet time in the morning is a great way to start the day. Looking out of the window or balcony and just being.


You can teach them self-management strategies to cope with sudden situations. E.g. Deep breathing, the “location exercise” or meditation

Comfort toy

Have a comfort toy around your child? It gives them certainty and comfort.

Try establishing an emotional bond with your child, allow them to express their thoughts and feelings freely, be gentle with them when they make mistakes and be patient.