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Children, like adults, have all sorts of strong feelings about what is happening to them. It’s natural for them to feel fearful or worried from time to time. However, a small group of children and young people have severe anxiety which causes a lot of distress, and can seriously affect the way their everyday lives.

When does worry turn into anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of fear or panic that is stronger than worry and lasts for longer. Feeling generally anxious sometimes is normal. Most people worry about something – money or exams – but once the difficult situation is over, you feel better and calm down. If the problem has gone but the feeling of fear or panic stays or even gets stronger, that’s when anxiety becomes a problem.

With as many as one in six young people experiencing anxiety at some point, it is very common to have anxiety.

What are the signs?

Anxiety can cause both physical and emotional symptoms. This means it can affect how a person feels in their body and also health. Some of the symptoms are:
• feeling fearful or panicky
• feeling breathless, sweaty, or complaining of ‘butterflies’ or pains in the chest or stomach
• feeling tense, fidgety, using the toilet often.
These symptoms may come and go. Young children can’t tell you that they are anxious. They become irritable, tearful and clingy, have difficulty sleeping, and can wake in the night or have bad dreams. Anxiety can even cause a child to develop a headache, a stomach-ache or to feel sick.

Why does this happen?

These sensations are all part of a normal, natural response which developed millions of years ago called “Flight or fight.” Early humans often needed to either run for their lives, or be ready to fight, when faced with a dangerous animal or a hostile tribe. When we feel anxious it’s actually the body going through some temporary changes to help us react more quickly and create more energy for running.

The trouble is everyday worries and fears, which are usually not life-threatening, can trigger the same response so that our bodies respond to protect us as if we were in real danger.

How can you help?

1. Talk to your child about anxiety, what is happening in their body and why it happens. Many children and young people don’t know what they are feeling when they are anxious, and it can be very frightening and overwhelming.
2. Tell your child it will be okay, and the anxiety will pass. It can be helpful to describe the anxiety as a wave to ride or surf that gets smaller after it peaks.
3. Get your child to breathe deeply and slowly, in through their nose for three counts and out through their mouth for three counts.
4. Distract them by focusing on something else.
5. Encourage your child to notice what makes them anxious. Talking it through can help but your child could also try keeping a diary or a ‘worry book’.
6. Work on positive-thinking. Name their worst case scenarios and think through together how to sort out the situation if it happens, e.g. ‘I’m worried that we’ll miss the bus.’ ‘What do you think we could do if that happens?’ ‘We could get the next bus’.
7. Help them maintain a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise to reduce the levels of stress hormones, good sleeping habits, calm bedtime routines, limited screen or computer time in the evening, and a healthy diet.

Watch Young Minds Parents Helpline for more ideas or go to Young Minds Parents Guide: Anxiety

Where can I find help?

Young Minds Parents Helpline
• Call for free 0808 802 5544 (Mon-Fri 9:30 – 16:00).
• Available in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Try your school nurse. They hold regular drop-ins at schools and colleges. You can contact them on 0800 0199 951 or

Encourage your child to try an activity. Look at the North Lincs Positive Activities website to see what is happening in your area.

Relevant Links & self help

Young Minds
Anxiety UK
The Mix – website for under 25 year olds Phone 0808 808 4994 (13:00-23:00 daily)
ChildLine – Phone: 0800 1111
No Panic – Youth Helpline for 13 – 20 yr olds: 0330 606 1174 (Mon – Fri 15:00 – 18:00 Charges apply)
In Hand – Free app suggesting activities to help you feel happier and more in control – for moments of anxiety or low mood.
MoodGYM is a free, fun, interactive program to help you when you are feeling low.
Advice if you are upset by the news – If you are upset by the news, it’s important to know that you are not the only one and it’s OK to have those feelings. This website gives you some tips about what to do if you are feeling sad about what you’ve seen, heard or read.

The Child Anxiety Network – Provides thorough, user-friendly information about child anxiety.
Website on Social anxiety disorder
Youth Access – Offers information, advice and counselling in the UK.

Relevant pages

Revelent links

Young Minds Website