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How to help your child deal with anxiety

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Julie and Maisie Irvine, experiencing the calm of yoga (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

In high school, Julie Irvine spent many sleepless nights worrying about exams. Physics and maths were her weak spots. When finally faced with the test she would go completely blank.

“I’d have to really work to calm myself down,” Ms Irvine said.

Today, the 40-year-old recognises what her real problem was: anxiety.

“I don’t think back then I even knew what anxiety was,” she said. “I wish there had been some kind of programme to help me deal with it.”

It is one of the reasons she got behind Worry Busters. The programme at holistic wellness centre Solstice helps children aged eight to 11 deal with anxiety.

“I really started noticing anxiety in children when I coached gymnastics, ten years ago,” Ms Irvine said. “I saw a lot of parents overly keen for their kids to perform well when their children were probably better doing it for fun.”

She recalled one incident when a parent pushed her child off the bar and showed her “how to do it”.

“The child was so embarrassed,” said Ms Irvine, an occupational therapist in the public school system. “After that, the child was very reluctant to do her routine whenever the parent was there watching.

“Developmental psychologists say we can see anxiety as early on as infancy. Anxiety in children is becoming more and more prevalent.

“There is an environmental, cultural and societal expectation for kids to not just do, but do well. A lot of our clients are the type of kids who want to please. They get anxious if they feel they can’t perform.”

Social media has added to the problem, providing greater opportunity for children to bully.

“Anxiety is normal,” Ms Irvine said. “Kids have to experience a normal level of anxiety. It is there for a purpose. From caveman years it helped us to evolve to where we are now.

“It is when that anxiety interferes with daily function to a degree where you’ve lost your quality of life that you have to be concerned. Is the child avoiding doing situations they haven’t done before? Are they having trouble sleeping or avoiding socialising?”

Worry Busters is an eight-week course loosely based on GoZen, an anxiety-reducing programme.

It teaches youngsters how to breathe to calm themselves and incorporates yoga “to teach mindfulness”.

There will also be role-playing and discussion about social media.

Parents are taught how to identify and deal with their child’s anxiety.

“It’s important not to misinterpret signs,” Ms Irvine said. “If a child has a bellyache and doesn’t want to go to school, you have to ask: is there a reason?

“Is there a test they’re avoiding or is their nemesis in class that day?”

Her five-year-old daughter, Maisie, worried about finding the bathroom when she started school in September.

“There would be a constant loop on this one issue,” she said. “During the first week of school she didn’t want to leave me to go to class. She soon came out of it. If that had persisted from September to now it would have been an issue.

“In Worry Busters, we teach kids how to identify their thought patterns and how to change them.”

Brighter children, and more reserved and inhibited children tend to be more prone to anxiety than others, she believes.

“There are also familial links and brain neuro transmission issues that seem connected with anxiety,” Ms Irvine said.

The warning signs

Does your child regularly complain they’re too sick to go to school? Do they seem withdrawn?

They may be signs of anxiety.

Here are a few more:

1, Frequent, unexplained sweaty hands, stomachache, nausea and headaches

2, Withdrawing from social activities

3, Looping over a particular issue

4, Disturbed sleeping or sleeplessness

5, Difficulty concentrating

For more information, contact Solstice on 293-3456 or info@solstice.bm

Julie and Maisie Irvine, experiencing the calm of yoga (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Maisie Irvine, catching bad thoughts, with her butterfly net (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Maisie Irvine catching bad thoughts with her butterfly net (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Maisie Irvine catching bad thoughts with her butterfly net (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Maisie Irvine catching bad thoughts with a butterfly net (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)