TV child psychologist's top tips for helping children with anxiety

Professor Sam Wass

Professor Sam Wass - Credit: University of East London

A child psychology expert at an east London university has revealed his advice for helping children with anxiety or depression.

Professor Sam Wass, who has appeared on Channel 4's The Secret Life of 4 and 5 Year Olds, told this paper that anxiety in children is now being diagnosed more commonly.

Symptoms of anxiety or depression among youngsters may include big changes in behaviour, becoming withdrawn and not wanting to go to school, Prof Wass explained.

But he advised parents who think their child may have symptoms against telling them not to worry or feel the emotion.

"There's a lot of evidence now suggesting that trying to reason away people's worries isn't effective for managing an emotion."

He said basic exercises can help to control physical symptoms of anxiety.

"When we're anxious, we tend to breathe more shallowly and our heart tends to go faster.

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"Take really deep, slow breaths in and out. There are loads of different ways in which that has been turned into an interesting game - dragon breaths, trying to breathe like a dragon.

"There are some fun games that are all about controlling your breathing speed, not breathing shallowly, breathing right to the bottom of your lungs which are effective in reducing our heart rate.

"What we're doing is forcing our body to breathe as if we're calm and evidence suggests that has a role in helping our body to become calm."

Signs of anxiety about the Covid pandemic can include talking about it and asking lots of questions, according to Prof Wass.

He said that children should be told that "it's a scary situation for everybody".

"One of the really basic things that is effective in reducing anxiety is to realise that other people are feeling the same thing.

"It's about saying to your kid as a parent, 'I am worried about you getting it too, I'm worried about me getting it'."

Another piece of advice he had if your child is concerned about going to school is giving them control over small details.

"They're not in control over whether they go to school or not, but they are in control of what pencil case they can take and that really does help."

For further information or advice, visit the NHS website.