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PARENTING Q&A: 'With an anxious child, it's like sitting on a rollercoaster'

Colman Noctor has worked as a child and adolescent psychotherapist for the last decade and he joined us today to answer your parenting questions.

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

OVER THE LAST few days, parents have been sending us questions they have about issues with their children.

Similar to our adult mental health Q&A with Dr Eddie Murphy, overwhelmingly, most of the questions were connected to issues of anxiety. Today we had child and adolescent psychotherapist Colman Noctor in the office to address them for you.

Two very similar questions about 8-year-old boys came from their concerned mothers. One told us how her little boy, described as kind and considerate, is also “extremely sensitive and gets down in the dumps quite easily”.

The other woman said her son, who can be a bubbly, happy boy, often complains of tummy ache before school and medical conditions have been ruled out. She also said he is not being bullied.

He’s not a bold child, but a dreamer, head in the clouds, head full of fluff, a kind/caring kid. VERY sensitive and empathetic, he will cry at sad films and be upset for a while after them, eg when Bambi’s mom died.

Noctor told TheJournal.ie that the tummy pains are a “common expression of anxiety” among children, referred to as recurrent abdominal pain and it is usually a psychosomatic presentation.

It can present as pains in the legs, back or as headaches. Noctor said once you have medically investigated and the child is healthy, chances are it is anxiety.

“Given the context of this little boy, whose very sensitive, he’s a worrier, he gets upset about things, he will cry at movies and watching cartoons, they’re skills and a curse in some respects.

Being sensitive is wonderful, it makes you a ferocious friend, it makes you someone who can tune into other people and makes you emotionally intelligent.
But when you’re eight and you’re absorbing all that emotion, you don’t have the capacity to manage it so if you’re soaking up how mum is doing, how dad is doing, what everyone in the schoolyard is feeling, you have these antenna that are open to all of these things yet you don’t have the internal coping strategies to manage it.

Parents of children suffering from anxiety should know that it is not uncommon, nor are the physical presentations like tummy aches and back pains.

Children get overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of their lives and the expectations there are.

Noctor said they do not have the language for anxious feelings and so they are often articulated in  in a sleep problem, tummy pain, a back ache or irritable, irrational behaviour.

Though anxious children do not respond well to heavy-handed parenting, you should not become consumed by their anxiety, so letting them stay off school or avoid social situations is not a good idea.


Little boys and girls need to be coached around life, Noctor explained, by showing them bad things happen, you survive it and you manage it.

I oftentimes think with parents it’s not about having the answers. With an anxious child, it’s like sitting on a rollercoaster. If you’re sitting on a rollercoaster with this child, you’re nervous and they’re nervous. The best approach is just to say I don’t know what’s ahead of us but we’ve got each other, we’re here, we’ll hold onto each other and we’ll get through it.

Watch the video above for more tips on anxiousness and other parenting issues. He also deals with a lot of these kinds of issues in his book, ‘Cop On’.

Read: Want to help your kids survive in today’s world? Teach them to cop on>

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