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VOICES

Opinion Anxiety can impact both you and your child, but there are ways to get help

Bree O’Neill of the ISPCC discusses anxiety in children and the reasons behind it. She has some help on offer.

EVERY GENERATION FACES its own unique challenges. There is a great deal of uncertainty and volatility in the world where children are growing up today. They live in a time of access to mass media that is almost impossible to avoid and requires us to all be ‘on’ all the time.

This generation is also the one to live under the cloud of climate change from the day of their birth. Many of us reading this will remember a time when climate change was not an existential threat we had to deal with every day – those days are gone.

Young people today have also just come through a global pandemic and are witnessing what is happening with the conflict in Ukraine. They are exposed to the constant flow of bad news, as well as debates around everything from immigration to identity and gender, all while public discourse grows more aggressive. All of this as the social media that sits in the phone in their hands calls on them to lead a life of perfection. That’s a lot for the mind of a young person to deal with and they can become overwhelmed along the way. 

At ISPCC, we know only too well how so many children and young people in Ireland today are suffering from anxiety. We know how powerless a parent can feel and how heartbreaking it can be watching their child withdraw from family, friends or school.

Anxiety can manifest itself in so many ways – school avoidance, social anxiety, low self-esteem or extreme self-consciousness, exam and school performance stress and separation anxiety.

Effects of pandemic

Much of what we are seeing can be linked back to Covid-19 and enforced cocooning. Children and young people were surrounded (for the most part) by immediate family members with limited exposure to ‘outsiders’ and normal social interaction with non-family members.

Young children got used to having their family members around almost all the time and, consequently, can feel extremely anxious when not with a parent/carer or sibling and can worry about something happening to a loved one when not in the home or together.

The pandemic enabled those children and young people who may have experienced mild anxiety around school attendance prior to Covid (but still attended school) to avoid the situation that induced the anxiety for a long time.

We know that kind of avoidance of a situation does not actually help. It only serves to increase physical and mental symptoms and leads to a decrease in one’s confidence to manage anxiety-inducing situations or events. This is one of the many reasons why we are seeing higher rates and higher levels of anxiety in children and young people today.

Help is available

It can be easy for a parent to feel as if they have failed their child when they see them suffering from anxiety. It can also be the case that parents and carers are battling their own worries and dealing with anxiety too.

Being a parent or carer in 2023 is not easy and for many of the same reasons listed above. Many will tell us that they simply don’t know if they are doing the right thing. The programmes that we run (training programmes) can help and provide clear and detailed guidance around how to empower your child (and yourself) to manage anxiety in an effective way.

By putting the skills and techniques into practice in their daily lives, young people and parents/carers can bring about positive change, feel more confident in their ability to cope and conquer fears that before, may have felt impossible. Furthermore, these tools, with practice, patience and perseverance, become second nature and can be adapted accordingly and used for the rest of their lives.

To help parents and children with all of this, we have devised some training programmes. The ISPCC’s Digital Mental Health and Wellbeing Programmes, I believe, are so important, because not only do they provide support for teens suffering from low to moderate anxiety, but they also offer invaluable support for parents and carers.

Childline by ISPCC / YouTube

Our programmes are meeting a huge need – for children, young people and parents. When we are listening to children or young people and they are talking to us about anxiety, often they do not know where to look for support and it can spiral and, in some cases, lead to self-harm or suicidal thoughts. The aim here is to offer support that can help anxious children, teens and their parents and carers. They are free, self-managed, online and based on the core principles of traditional Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

At ISPCC we offer three separate but complimentary programmes, one of which is designed for teenagers experiencing anxiety and two are available to parents and carers of either anxious children or teens.

Participants have 12 weeks in which to complete the programme under the guidance of a volunteer and can avail of an unsupported version of the programme for one year after this time.

If you recognise that you or your child are having feelings of anxiety, that is a first step. It is important to recognise that each little step is one in the right direction and that should be recognised and applauded. When a parent can understand the feelings of their child or teenager, they can help them. They are armed with knowledge. The more that they know, the more that they can understand and the more that they can help.

These programmes are a great resource, a way to equip yourself with the right techniques and skills to help you and your child manage their anxiety. Anxiety is one of those experiences that can be managed and challenged with the right tools. We hope to help you and your child build that set of tools to help you better cope with everyday stresses.

Bree O’Neill is the Digital Support Coordinator – Clinical Lead with ISPCC. To find out more email Bree at spacefromanxiety@ispcc.ie or visit https://www.ispcc.ie/guided-digital-programmes/ They are created by SilverCloud, a leading digital mental health provider. There are several ways to access ISPCC’s Digital Mental Health and Wellbeing Programmes, including making a self-referral or enlisting the help of your GP, CAMHS or school.

VOICES

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