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Anxiety - advice for parents and carers

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Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling that everyone has experienced at some point in life. We might also describe this feeling as being worried, nervous, scared, tense or on edge. When we feel anxious we also experience physical feeling of anxiety in our body. These can include a racing heart, breathlessness, dizziness, muscular tension, feeling hot, sweaty and shaky and feeling sick.

These physical symptoms of anxiety are called the ‘flight, fight or freeze’ response, which is our bodies in built alarm system designed to keep us safe from danger. Humans have had this in built alarm system since we were cavemen and women and needed to protect ourselves from woolly mammoths and sabre tooth tigers! When we see or think of something scary, our brain sends messages to our body to get ready to protect us by either running away (flight), fighting back (fight) or hiding (freeze). When our heart beats fast, more blood and oxygen travel to our muscles (so they can work hard) and our muscles become tense (so they’re ready for action). The physical symptoms we experience mean our bodies are ready to run fast, react quickly to danger and keep us safe. Although we don’t need to worry about woolly mammoths and sabre tooth tigers anymore, anxiety can be triggered by other potentially tricky situations such as medical procedures, starting a new school or sitting exams.

As well as experiencing body symptoms of anxiety, anxiety can affect our thoughts and the way we behave. When we feel anxious we might worry for long periods of time. Worries can grow and the mind can jump from one to worry to another very quickly. When this happens worries can start to feel overwhelming and out of control. When worries start to get out of control they can change how we behave. For example, we might avoid going to certain places or seeing certain people because we fear what might happen.

Signs and symptoms
  • On edge
  • Nervous
  • Worried
  • Irritable/low patience
Physical Symptoms:
  • Racing heart
  • Breathlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Muscular tension
  • Feeling hot, sweaty and shaky
  • Butterflies in the stomach
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Needing the toilet
  • Hard to concentrate
Thinking styles:
  • 'What if' thoughts about something bad happening
  • The mind jumps from worry to worry
  • Thoughts which imagine the worst case scenarios
  • Being on the look out for danger
  • The mind goes blank or ‘shuts down’.
Behaviour Patterns:
  • Avoidance
  • Find it hard to relax
  • Snap or argue with people
  • Get easily flustered
  • Talk very quickly

Although short experiences of anxiety are normal and happen to everyone, anxiety becomes challenging when it starts to get in the way of doing things you want and need to do in your life.

How to help your child
Talking about mental health

Encouraging open and non judgemental conversations about emotions is really important to create an environment where children and young people feel it is safe to let the adults in their life know how they are feeling.

Validate feelings of anxiety

Gently ask what might be making your child feel anxious. They may not know or may find it difficult to articulate their worries and in this case, it can be helpful to offer tentative suggestions, for example ‘I wonder if you’re feeling worried about the blood test’. Validate that the worry is a real feeling, which is really unpleasant for them. Then focus on what you can both to help them to overcome anxiety.

Be a role model

Ultimately children learn how to express and regulate their emotions from the adults around them. At times everyone will experience anxiety and it’s normal to experience these emotions. Modelling how you manage anxiety, remain calm and problem solve difficulties will help children and young people to develop their emotional regulation skills.

Seek support for children and young people

Discuss your concerns with the child or young person and ask them how they’re doing. This may be enough to understand the cause of the difficulties and know how to address them. However, if you still have concerns, seek advice from your GP or hospital consultant about the best next steps. This might include a referral to the Paediatric Psychology Service based at the RHC, or your local CAMHS.

Useful resources
Websites and self-help guides

Anxiety Canada

This Canadian website has collected together resources to help adults, young people and children cope with anxiety, wherever you are.

HandsOn Anxiety Resource for Education Staff

The anxiety resource has been developed by Fife CAMHS for education staff, and offers teaching tools and strategies for understanding and managing anxiety. 

Parents, carers and other professionals can get advice and support on the HandsOn Anxiety page. There's also a virtual workshop on Understanding Anxiety 

Anxiety Self-Help Guide

This pdf self-help workbook aims to: 

  • Recognise whether you may be experiencing symptoms of anxiety.
  • Understand what anxiety is, what causes it and what keeps it going.
  • Find ways to understand, manage or overcome your anxiety. 



Fight Flight Freeze – Anxiety Explained For Teens - YouTube

Fight Flight Freeze – A Guide to Anxiety for Kids - YouTube


Editorial Information

Last reviewed: 23 March 2022

Next review: 31 March 2025

Author(s): Paediatric Psychology Service