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Supporting Children with Anxiety and Hyper-Vigilance: Practical Tips for Parents


a boy holding his head in his hands being overwhelmed

Childhood should be a time of joy, curiosity, and carefree exploration. However, for some children, the world can feel overwhelming, leading to heightened vigilance and anxiety.


For our family, and many other adopters it has developed over time. It wasn't as simple as we noticed it when he started school, it wasn't until he reached year 3 that we started to pick up on it. So how do we deal with it and how do we support our child through it? Well first of all it's important to realise what it is and why its happening.


What is Hyper-Vigilance and why do children have it?

Hyper-Vigilance is often a result of ADHD or trauma related stresses such as Living through a dangerous event or neglect or abuse at a young age, unfortunately this happens all to much in todays world


Half a million children a year suffer abuse in the UK. In 2021/22 the NSPCC's Helpline contacted agencies about 22,505 children to investigate concerns about abuse and neglect: 8,389 children with concerns of neglect. 6,441 children with concerns of physical abuse.

Hyper-vigilance in children is often a response to perceived threats, and when coupled with anxiety, it can significantly impact their daily lives. As caregivers, parents, and educators, it's crucial to provide the necessary support and create a nurturing environment for these children to thrive.


In this blog post, we'll explore practical strategies to help children struggling with hyper-vigilance and anxiety.


How to help children with anxiety and Hyper-Vigilance


anxious lady

1.     Understanding the Signs:

Before diving into strategies, it's essential to recognize the signs of hyper-vigilance and anxiety in children. These may include constant worry, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, inability to regulate, sleep disturbances, negative thinking. Recognizing these signs is the first step toward offering appropriate support.



child's cosy corner

2.     Create a Safe Space:

Establishing a safe and predictable environment is vital for children dealing with hyper-vigilance and anxiety. Ensure that the child has a designated safe space where they can retreat when feeling overwhelmed. This space can be a quiet corner with comforting items like soft blankets, stuffed animals, or sensory tools.



open communication between parent and child

3.     Encourage Open Communication:

Foster an environment where the child feels comfortable expressing their feelings. Encourage open communication by actively listening, validating their emotions, and providing reassurance. Let them know that it's okay to feel anxious and that you are there to support them. Talk about your own emotions. If you’ve had a bad day express it and show your child how you have coped with it. Teach through example.

 


emotions flashcards

4.     Teach recognition of emotions

Children that have experience neglect from a young age might be unable to recognise emotions as well as their peers. Actively naming emotions and teaching how we deal with them appropriately is key.




5.     Teach Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques:

Introduce age-appropriate mindfulness and relaxation techniques to help children manage their anxiety. Simple activities like deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, and relaxation techniques.

There is a wealth of information here:





visual timetable

6.     Establish a Consistent Routine:

Children thrive on routine, and a structured daily schedule can help reduce uncertainty and anxiety. Establish consistent mealtimes, bedtime routines, and dedicated periods for homework and play. Predictability provides a sense of security for children struggling with hyper-vigilance. Depending on age a visual timetable can work wonders.





7.     Provide Coping Strategies:

Teach the child coping strategies to manage anxiety-triggering situations. This may include creating a "worry box" where they can write down their concerns and then discuss them with you later. We have a worry monster that eats the worries. When I was younger, we had worry dolls we whispered our worries to and then placed them under our pillows. Additionally, encourage them to visualize positive outcomes in challenging situations. Focus on positive affirmations to start the day, and introduce a positivity journal. We use "Happy, confident, me" and you can certainly see the difference after using it continuously!




7.     Model Healthy Coping Mechanisms:

Children often learn by observing the behaviour of adults around them. Demonstrate healthy coping mechanisms by managing your own stress in a positive way. This can include engaging in physical activity, practicing mindfulness, or seeking support from friends and family.


positive affirmation

8.     Collaborate with Professionals:

If a child's hyper-vigilance and anxiety persist, it's essential to seek professional help. Collaborate with mental health professionals, such as therapists or counsellors, who specialize in working with children. They can provide additional strategies and support tailored to the child's specific needs.




Conclusion:

Supporting a child struggling with hyper-vigilance and anxiety requires patience, understanding, and a holistic approach. By creating a safe and predictable environment, fostering open communication, and introducing coping strategies, parents, caregivers and teachers can play a crucial role in helping these children navigate the challenges they face.


Remember that every child is unique, so it's important to tailor your approach to meet their individual needs. With the right support and care, children can learn to manage their anxiety and thrive in a nurturing environment.

 

every child is unique quote

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