01/02/2010 10:38 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Ask Joanne: My Child Suffers With Anxiety

What's your question about life as a parent? Our experienced life coach Joanne Mallon is here to help. Send your email in here and say if you'd like your name changed.

Michaela wrote in November about her son who was afraid of going upstairs. Now she's written again to let us know that this particular fear has reduced, but he is still anxious about other things:

The situation is worse and has turned into fear of particular situations so much that what seems like small things can make him very upset. For example, we have a new puppy and after a few days the puppy choked on a bit of tissue – nothing major. I just picked him up and removed it from his throat and he was fine. My son was hysterical and made me check the puppy every five minutes to see if he was breathing and also check if his brother, who was asleep, was also breathing. Now every time the puppy gets something – as they do – it sparks off hysteria and tears. This is also how he reacts if anybody gets hurt.

Also if we are all eating and someone coughs, he watches them and asks if they are OK all the time (this was before the puppy incident). I feel he thinks he is responsible for the wellbeing of the family, and if things go wrong that it is somehow his fault even though this has never been suggested. I have tried to explain that its mummy's job to keep everybody safe and not to worry about anything. Please help

Here's the life coach's reply:

Dear Michaela

Thank you for keeping in touch. I'm sorry to hear that your son is still feeling anxious.

I think it's important to listen to his fears and try to see them from his perspective. We adults may see the puppy gagging and know that it's nothing much to worry about, but this is clearly not how the child sees it. To him it's not a minor issue at all, but a major one.

There are several ways you can help him deal with his anxieties via play. You can help him to express himself through art – encourage your son and his brother to paint and draw, or give him a chalkboard or wipe clean whiteboard in his bedroom to encourage spontaneous expression.

You can also encourage roleplay with little figures – does he like Lego or Playmobil? Get down on the floor with him next time he's playing with any type of little figures and get him to talk about them – this will give you more insight into how he sees his world. You can also buy Guatemalan worry dolls, which the child uses to tell their worries to, then places them under their pillow – I know many people think this is a load of old hogwash, but the point of this is that it helps the child to feel more in control of their worries.

Think about the times when he feels most confident and at ease - what does he like to do for fun? The more you can encourage him to do the things where he feels confident and secure, the more his general levels of confidence will rise.

If you think he would go for it, there are some meditation CDs for children here. I also recommend the Relax Kids range, and the range of children's books by Dr Wayne Dyer.

You haven't mentioned his dad at all, and an absent father figure could be the reason why your son feels like he has to take the worries of the house on his shoulders. If his dad's not around, do you ever talk about this? Or if his dad is still in his life, what's their relationship like?

Since this anxiety has been continuing for a while, it may be time to talk to your GP, Health Visitor or school nurse. Sometimes children will open up to another adult in a way that they wouldn't do to a parent. You may be responsible for your household, but that doesn't mean you have to do it alone.

Good luck and keep in touch,


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