As the exam season has drawn to a close and holidays are beginning, anxiety and stress may seem like a thing of the past few months. Nevertheless, for many the exam results themselves can bring about just as much stress an anxiety and what about all that holiday work that has been set for next term?
Longer term anxiety and stress is an issue which is seemingly impacting more and more young people. As the dialogue surrounding mental health and stress appears in our daily media how can we effectively help young people identify the factors that are causing them stress and anxiety and what practical support can we give children to deal with these stresses?
According to the NHS although it is normal for children to feel worries or anxious from time to time, the rise of specific anxiety disorders and long term stress is leading to further calls for professional support and importantly for parents and teachers to be able to recognise this type of stress or anxiety.
A recent paper from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University mentioned that “exposure to circumstances that produce persistent fear and chronic anxiety can have lifelong consequences by disrupting the developing architecture of the brain.” (JP Shonkoff et all). It is clearly important for parents and teachers to understand the causative factors and methods of dealing with stress and anxiety within children.
There are different types of anxiety many of which are particularly common in children and adolescents. With younger children phobias and separation anxiety can be common whilst particularly with adolescents social and school-based anxiety are according to recent research particularly prevalent. There are not always clear signs of anxiety and often parents can struggle to talk to their children about their mental health.
The Mental Health Foundation has published excellent material on how to understand some of the issues surrounding anxiety within children and adolescents. These include some of the signs of anxiety in children such as:
- they are extremely shy, timid and clinging
- they have real difficulties mixing with other children
- they have difficulty getting off to and staying asleep
- they have repeated nightmares (more than one a week)
- they have repeated complaints of headache or stomach ache
- they are constantly asking if things are all right or other ways of asking for reassurance
(The Mental Health Foundation 1997)
Parents can often tell if something is not quite right and combined with some of the above indicators it may be a good time to sit down and chat with your children. Associate Professor Chris Davey from the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health in Australia suggests being upfront and not skirting around the issues and suggesting that you have noticed that they have not been themselves recently. This direct approach can help your children discuss their feelings and allow you both to deal with them as they occur.
Nevertheless, many parents may find that their children, particularly teenagers, may not open up to them. This is not unusual and there are other routes to dealing with this and one of the biggest recent trends in education may provide an excellent answer.
Mentoring has seen a meteoric rise in recent years with parents seeking the benefits of young mentors to help their children with the general approach to their studies and organisation of their daily routines. These mentors have often proven to be much more than just excellent study guides though and often the trust and rapport which builds up between mentors and their mentees mean that they can be very well placed to talk to children and adolescents about their mental health. Although as a parent you may have found it difficult to talk to your children about their mental health it is important to understand that children may find it easier to open up to a non-family member like a mentor in order to discuss their anxieties.
Mentoring is something that has helped many students in the past with their studies but as the trending mental health issues in young people become more acute hopefully mentors will also be able to continue to provide support and a listening ear for children and adolescents who are struggling.
Gabbitas has a number of excellent mentors many of whom have specific experience dealing with children’s mental health issues and can provide not only excellent academic mentoring but also act as role models and provide support for children throughout their education.
If you have any concerns about mental health within children find out more information on the NHS Website