Children may become insecure at any age, and for many reasons. They may have experienced death or divorce, or other difficulties within the home; they may be experiencing difficulties at school, perhaps bullying from their peers, or otherwise academic pressures. Since typically a child will not express their anxiety in words, the child will, again, "act out" the insecurity; either by apparent misbehaving, withdrawal, or through physical symptoms such as headaches and tummy-aches. Both parents and teachers need to be able to recognise and understand insecurity and anxiety in children, in order to help them cope with day-to-day life.
First, seek to understand the problem at hand. While anxiety and depression are widely recognised as serious mental health issues in the adult population, such problems in children are often ignored, perhaps being perceived as "phases" that the child will grow out of. However, according to the Mental Health Foundation, up to 11% of children and adolescents suffer from some form of anxiety that prevents them leading a normal life.
Learn to recognise fear. Children may express fear and insecurity from a very young age, beginning with infantile separation anxiety and developing into fears of closets, ghosts and monsters under the bed. As such parents can often develop a habit of dismissing children's fears as "silly," but according to the educational reformer John Holt, "most children in school are scared most of the time, many of them very scared." He also argues that "most people do not recognise fear in children when they see it."
Listen to children when they talk. Children are often afraid of talking about their problems for fear of being judged negatively, or told that they are naughty; parents and teachers might have told them "not to be so silly" when expressing their fears. Adults seeking to help children who are insecure should first of all listen to the child, to allow them to express whatever it is they might be feeling.
Reassure your child. Sometimes parents will react angrily to children who are "acting out" when this is only a symptom of their insecurity and anxiety. Children who have been fostered or adopted, or are otherwise in and out of the care system, are often extremely insecure as a consequence of malfunctioning attachment patterns; they have never experienced a secure loving attachment to a primary caregiver, and as a result act out their insecurity through withdrawn or angry behaviours. But children from a variety of backgrounds will "act out" because of fundamental insecurity. Try to reassure them, and find out what is really bothering them.
If your child is worried about school, try to find out if there really is a problem. School is often a tremendously stressful experience for children, and when insecurity and anxiety are not recognised either at home or at school, an insecure child can feel increasingly isolated, and their emotional difficulties are compounded. Added to this is the shame a child may feel when bullied by peers, or when "failing" academically; in such circumstances a child may feel too ashamed to talk about their problems, believing it is "all their own fault."
Seek help. If you are becoming anxious about your child's anxiety, you are more likely to transfer your anxiety to the child and even reinforce it. Get support from friends and family, and try to maintain a reassuring, non-anxious presence for your child. Most of all the insecure child needs comfort and reassurance, so try to make sure you are in a position to provide these things. There are books, resources and charities who can also advise and support you, so do not feel that you must struggle alone.
Allow your child to carry a comforter, if they like to do so; it has been shown that comforters help children to cope in stressful situations, and may do so far better than children who don't have comforters. Try not to argue in front of your child, or otherwise allow a stressful home situation to persist. Don't feel guilty if your child is anxious or insecure; it can happen to most children at one time or another. Remember that your guilt and anxiety can make your child feel even more insecure, so try to relax. Seek help if you need to... or even if you don't.
Tips and warnings
- Allow your child to carry a comforter, if they like to do so; it has been shown that comforters help children to cope in stressful situations, and may do so far better than children who don't have comforters.
- Try not to argue in front of your child, or otherwise allow a stressful home situation to persist.
- Don't feel guilty if your child is anxious or insecure; it can happen to most children at one time or another. Remember that your guilt and anxiety can make your child feel even more insecure, so try to relax.
- Seek help if you need to... or even if you don't.