Anxiety in children can manifest in three different ways: psychological, physical, and behavioral. And it’s important for parents, teachers, and carers to look out for the signs:
- Psychological: anxious thoughts, maybe real or imagined about anticipated or present events.
- Physical: shortness of breath, dizziness, increased heart rate, increased heart rate, trembling, muscle tension, sweating, numbness, dry mouth, tingling, abdominal discomfort, nausea, fatigue, panic attacks.
- Behavioral: crying, screaming, tantrums, avoidance behavior, sleeping difficulty, separation anxiety, obsessions, compulsions, irritability, restlessness and eating disorders.
Lynda Hudson in her book “Script and Strategies in Hypnotherapy with Children” explains how the origin of anxiety in children might be due to several factors including genetic predisposition; reproducing parents or relatives’ anxious behavior; a life changing event such as the death of a parent, a divorce, or the arrival of a new sibling; withdrawal from prescription drugs or protracted illness.
Why anxiety is not short-lived though, why does it tend to carry on and on and sometimes get worse?
Anxiety can be maintained by:
Association: when something relatively harmless can become associated with something scary. For example, a doctor uniform can be associated with fear of injections and so a child can become frightened every time they see a doctor.
Avoidance: if a child avoids putting themselves in a situation, they consider frightening, they will never give themselves the chance to cope with it. For example, a child that falls from his/her bike and never wants to cycle again.
Reinforcement: If a child is scared of going to nursery and once, he/she gets to nursery the parent takes him/her back home without entering the building, the child’s feeling of relief will reinforce the fear.
How can Solution Focused Hypnotherapy help?
Hypnotherapy can eliminate or reduce anxiety and phobias by dispelling the fear by explaining to the child how his/her brain work (the fight or flight response); reframing anxiety as an overenthusiastic reaction by the child’s inner mind which is designed to protect them; building confidence and self-esteem; increasing calm and relaxation; encouraging thought stopping and positive self-talk.
In addition to hypnosis itself the Hypnotherapist can teach the child one or more coping strategy which are appropriate to their age should they need it, for example breathing techniques. Lynda Hudson, summarizes two of the most effective ones including:
Close your mouth and count to yourself as you breath in, to the count of 3 and out to the count of 6. Continue to do this until you feel more in control again.
Brath in 1-2-3…Breath out 1-2-3-5-5-6.
If you feel very panicky, put your cupped hands over your nose and mouth and breath in the air you have just breathed out. This can help to bring back up the levels of CO2 and make you feel calmer. It is best to do it with your moth closed and you can do it everywhere without people taking notice.
Another coping strategy is to challenge your thoughts for example:
I have been in this situation before and I was fine afterwards…I will be fine this time too!
Using a coping statement of your choice can also help reduce anxiety:
I know I can stay cool calm and in control…
I don’t like this think but I can cope with it anyway…
Although these feelings are a bit scary, they will soon pass….
Everyday I’m getting stronger and stronger…braver and braver…
The last coping strategy worth mentioning is anchors. They are essentially powerful triggers for a behavioral response. In real life anchors are accidental and we respond to them naturally – for example I’m suddenly happy when I smell home made pizza baking in the oven as it brings up good memories from childhood back in Italy. In hypnotherapy we deliberately aim to take the power away from negative anchors that underlie many fears and phobias, and we aim to empower children by giving them positive anchors to trigger their resourceful states. For example, we can ask a child to associate a good memory and feeling (e.g., the child parent giving them a big cuddle) to a gesture, so they can repeat that gesture whenever they feel alone and miss their parent to bring back that feeling of comfort and safety.
Lynda Hudson is a former teacher is a clinical hypnotherapist practitioner who specializes in working with children. She is a lecturer in clinical hypnosis at the London College of Clinical Hypnosis (LCCH) and the ISIS Hypnotherapy Centre in Brighton, UK.