Anxiety is a large part of life for children. Whether it’s family or school issues – combating anxiety can be tricky. Keep in mind that the goal is not to eliminate anxiety but rather to help a child manage it.
One of the best ways to help kids overcome anxiety isn’t to try to remove stressors that trigger it. A much better approach is to help them find ways to tolerate and work through their stress to function as best they can, even when they’re anxious.
Luckily, massage and touch therapy has proven to assist in many types of childhood discomforts, including research-proven positive results in dealing with both emotional and academic anxiety.
At the heart of anxiety is worry, which causes excessive concern about real or even imagined situations. A child may have anxiety about a big test coming up (genuine concern) or maybe worried about what to wear to school in fear of being teased (imagined concern).
Treatment may become necessary when worrying gets to an excessive point and begins to interfere with the child’s life. The hard part about diagnosing and treating anxiety is that it manifests itself in many different ways; behavioral, cognitive, and physical reactions.
Anxiety in Babies
Anxiety commonly presents itself around seven to nine months old and is exhibited by “stranger anxiety,” meaning the infant will become upset around new people. This “stranger anxiety” signals the child’s cognitive development when children begin to discriminate among people. The next development stage happens around 12-18 months when we see our children begin to exhibit separation anxiety when we try to go to dinner or run an errand and typically works itself out by the age of two. These periods are important indicators that our children are developing as usual!
Anxiety in Childhood
By the age of eight, children begin to shift their focus to specific, identifiable events (animals, monsters under the bed) and focus on less specific concerns like grades, making, and keeping friends.
As the child begins to grow into adolescence, they start to worry about a host of additional issues, such as sexuality and peer-based issues, which can lead to increased anxiety levels.
One way to address anxiety regarding new activities or recurring events, such as doctor appointments, is to keep the anticipatory period short. Whenever we are afraid of something, the biggest challenge is staying calm and relaxed during the time leading up to the event. Answering any questions in a clear, concise, and developmentally appropriate way helps reduce anticipatory anxiety. Children do better when they feel safe, secure, and comfortable while answering their questions. Avoiding questions or leaving information vague will cause more stress.
Touch Therapy can help facilitate relaxation and improve self-esteem.
Starting in infancy, a parent can begin to massage their child, which forges a stronger bond between parent and child. Massage can also provide a time for a parent to sit down with their child and discuss their day or any anxiety they may have. A family spends a focused time during touch therapy which provides an outlet for anxiety. Studies have shown children and adults who receive massage experience diminished anxiety during academic stress, hospital stays, and other potential anxiety-related events.
Current findings provide varying evidence for the benefits of pediatric massage therapy in children with diverse medical conditions; however, anxiety reduction has shown the most substantial effect.
Getting Started with Touch Therapy
When beginning a massage, it is always important to ask the child’s permission to receive a massage. Don’t take it personally if the child doesn’t want to receive a massage.
Respect their independence, the right to say “no” to unwanted touch, and the ability to make choices.
By respecting their choices, we help encourage appropriate self-esteem and self-regulation to reduce any issues with anxiety further.