Coping with anxiety

10th August 2018

Jane Sandwood has worked in Occupational Therapy for over ten years and has kindly written an article for us about Coping with an Anxious Child Post-Meningitis, read it below

Coping with anxiety
When our children are ill or distressed the first thing we as parents want to do is swoop in and rescue them.  As heart-wrenchingly noble as this may seem it isn’t always possible, especially not when dealing with the long-term after-effects of meningitis.

As if having to fight the infection wasn’t trying enough,  some children are faced with long-term after-effects that range from headaches and memory loss to behavioural disorders, depression, and anxiety. 

Understanding the cause of your child’s anxiety as well as how to treat it, apart from conventional medications, can go a long way in ensuring that your entire family enjoys a happier, stress-free life.

Why does meningitis cause anxiety in children?

Anxiety is a very common long-term effect of bacterial meningitis, with nearly 1 in 5 children displaying prominent signs of anxiety after recovery. The anxiety may be brought on as a direct result of the injury to the temporal lobe (the section of the brain that controls emotion) or as a result of grasping the long-term effects the meningitis has had on the child’s life (which is often the case with older children).  Regardless of the cause, it is imperative that the anxiety is addressed in a manner that will not only alleviate your child of a lot of unnecessary worry, but will also relieve the entire family from a very heavy and somewhat harrowing burden.

Empower your child to manage his anxiety instead of removing all triggers

One of the hardest things for a parent is to see their beloved child anxious and unhappy. It is a natural instinct to try and protect our children from anything that could potentially harm them in any way – including the stressors that activate anxiety. While this may be a good short-term solution to the problem, avoidance only reinforces the anxiety in the long run. Instead of trying to keep your child away from everything that upsets him, rather empower him to manage his anxiety. 

A good approach to take is to set mini-goals, both for your child and yourself. If the anxiety attacks are caused by getting on an escalator, for instance, you can start by walking to the bottom of the escalator, telling your child how fun it looks to ride on one. You can even go up and down one, smiling and waving at your child, slowly instilling acceptance until such a point that he is ready to climb on the escalator himself. This gradual exposure to an anxiety trigger can help your child manage his feelings in a positive way and can even neutralise the fear completely.

Respect your child’s feelings without being too reassuring 

As cruel as this may sound, it definitely is not. When a child is scared of something, it is important that you find middle-ground between disregarding these fears, and amplifying them.  Allow your child to voice his fears, and be as empathetic as possible without fuelling the anxiety. Instead of trying to rationalise your child’s worries, take a few slow, deep breaths and empathise before evaluating the situation. It is important that you, as a parent, don’t blame yourself for your child’s anxiety. Just like him contracting meningitis wasn’t your fault you aren’t to blame for the after-effects either. 

No matter how debilitating your child’s anxiety may seem, you need to remember that there is always room for improvement. By working closely together with your child’s medical team and following the guidelines above you will be able to address any anxiety-related issues head-on, providing your child, and the rest of your family, with a happy, wholesome life.