Health & Fitness

We’re child psychologists and here’s how to help kids of all ages with their anxieties

ONE in six children experience mental health disorders, while 78 per cent who have had counselling feel socially anxious.

To mark Children’s Mental Health Week, which starts tomorrow, young people’s charity Place2Be is urging parents, carers and teachers to help youngsters spark conversations about how they feel.


One in six children experience mental health disorders, while 75 per cent who have had counselling feel socially anxious[/caption]

Child psychologist Dr Sophie Abrahams said: “All children experience worries from time to time, for example when starting a new school or doing exams. These are normal and should not have a prolonged impact.

“For some children, worries and emotions affect their thoughts and behaviours every day and interfere with their daily lives, including school, home and friendships.

Soothing tones 

“For all age groups, anxieties may go away with the support of those who care about them, but it is a good idea to seek professional help if they are constantly anxious or their behaviours continue to be extreme or worrying.”

Place2Be, which has The Princess of Wales as a patron, partnered with more than 500 schools and 240,000 pupils last year. 

The charity revealed that 78 per cent of children and teen­agers it supported felt socially anxious and 65 per cent struggled to talk to kids their own age. Three quarters saw an improvement in severe mental health difficulties after receiving support.

Place2Be CEO Catherine Roche said: “We have seen an increase in the number of children struggling. 


Dr Sophie Abrahams said: ‘For some children, worries and emotions affect their thoughts and behaviours every day and interfere with their daily lives’[/caption]

“NHS data shows it has gone from one in ten to one in six children and one in four older teenagers who have a probable mental health condition.

“Children have seen so many stressors — Covid, the war in Ukraine and now a cost-of-living crisis — all of which have contributed towards difficulties many young people face. 

“But, with support we know we can create resilient young people who are able to navigate life’s challenges.”

Here, Dr Abrahams and fellow child psychologist Dr Sanchita Chowdhury explain how to help your child at different ages.

Infants 0-1

Look for: Crying and noise, as newborns and young infants use these to communicate feelings.

They are totally reliant on their caregivers for meeting basic needs.


Newborns and young infants use noise and crying to communicate feelings[/caption]

Caregivers might recog­nise changes in how a baby cries to indicate pain versus hunger, but often it is very hard to distinguish.

What you can do: Commun­icate back using gentle, soothing tones to show they have been heard, check their basic needs are met (e.g. nappy, feeding, winding) and offer cuddles and eye contact.

Early years 1-5

Look for: Changes in behav­iour as this is how they communicate. They may withdraw and not want to go to nursery or school.

Some avoid eating, citing tummy aches.

They might talk less, have toilet accidents or play up, displaying more aggression or sad­ness.

Separation anxiety is common.

What you can do: Listen to and acknowledge their words and be­haviour and empathise.

Once they are calm, offer lots of cuddles and talk about what happened and how to manage it in future.

Children 5-11

Look for: Signs they are struggling, such as internalising their feelings – becoming withdrawn, quiet, complaining of stomach pains or headaches.

Or they may externalise feelings through negative behaviours, such as challenging adults.

Children continue to need support developing their emotional language.

Friendships, school and tiredness will play bigger parts in their ability to regulate emotions.

What you can do: Be aware of changes in their attitude or be­haviour and use them as oppor­tunities to provide support. Let them know that how they feel is OK and provide com­passion, empathy and physical comfort.

Tell them you understand and accept what they are feeling, but set limits on negative behaviours, for example, “I can see you are feeling angry, but it’s not OK to hit”.

Help them use words to describe feelings, for example, “You look frustrated doing your homework”.

Problem solve with them, “Would you like some help getting started?”.

Stories on related topics are good conversation starters. Gentle breathing techniques help, too.

Child psychologist Dr Sanchita Chowdhury explains how to help your child at different ages

Teenagers 11-18

What to look for: Anxiety, depression, low mood and body image issues, as these are common in teens.

Hormones are at play, and feeling socially accepted is very important.


Sleep difficulties, self-harming, obsessive habits, panic attacks and appetite changes are all signs of anxiety[/caption]

Teenagers might rely on instincts and their brains are not fully developed, especially when it comes to planning and empathy.

Signs your child is struggling emotionally may include becoming more reclusive, turning down activities they would usually enjoy, reduced confidence, becoming tearful or getting angry and feeling constantly worried.

Sleep difficulties, self-harming, obsessive habits, panic attacks and appetite changes are all signs of anxiety.

What you can do: Don’t feel as though you have to problem solve. Let your child know they can talk to you and be heard.

Encourage small, achievable goals and celebrate success.

Consider exercise and mindfulness apps, such as Headspace or Calm. Plan with them in advance how to manage potentially stressful situations.

Source of data and images: thesun

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