There are numerous things causing children to worry today - from the war in Ukraine, Covid, social media pressure, exam pressure, future job prospects, climate change, to name but a few. It’s important for us to do our best to discuss these anxieties with our children, helping them to put any risk to them into context.
Children have a tendency to catastrophise; it’s therefore important to help frame their worries into a more accurate context. For example, exams can be a common trigger for anxiety. I can remember a time when my eldest daughter was incredibly stressed by an upcoming exam. Her logic was that if she failed this exam, she would have to move to a lower set, which would be probably failing her exams, which would mean never getting a decent job. From here, she thought it would mean not having any money, which would result in her living on the streets! She had literally connected this very dramatic outcome to how she would perform in one particular exam on one particular day. Children also have a tendency to feel as though difficult times will last forever - so it helps to also remind them that they never do.
Whilst it is helpful to unpick these thinking patterns, it’s important to note that anxiety in children is not all a question of ‘psychology’. It’s not simply a case of developing a ‘stiff upper lip’ - developing emotional resilience comes down to biological factors as well.
Anxiety (the body’s fight and flight reactions) is governed by our own unique biochemistry and lower brain functioning. It’s important to note that both these are beyond our conscious control. It is for this reason that talking therapies may not be effective for relieving anxiety in children.
However, by being able to identify the root, biochemical causes of anxiety, we are able to treat them effectively. We can do this without medication and with long term effects.
“Renae’s anxiety has been reduced considerably. Some days it’s non-existent. It’s had a huge positive impact on her day to day life and ours. She’s been able to participate in activities, even walk into class without being pulled off me. AMAZING. The improvement in Renae is truly amazing and I would love for you to share this with other families.”
December 2020: Colette, Mother of Renae following biomedical treatment
The role of retained reflexes in anxiety in children
Primitive reflexes can be the root cause of anxiety in children. They are
repetitive, automatic movements that provide the foundation for all motor coordination skills and we all have them in our early life. Primitive reflexes help the nervous system develop. They are essential during infancy to develop head control, muscle tone, sensory integration and visual development.
The integration of these primitive reflexes is necessary for a child's development of spontaneous postural movement and proper visual-motor development.
These primitive reflexes should not be present past very early childhood. When they are still present beyond this stage, retained reflexes can act as ‘blockages’ to further development.
When a child has retained reflexes, nothing comes easily. They will be struggling just to cope with day to day tasks. These are the individuals who are much more susceptible to anxiety. External pressures, such as meeting the expectations of school life, add to their already stressed systems.
The Moro reflex and anxiety in children
The Moro reflex serves as a baby’s primitive fight or flight reaction. It is usually inhibited by the time the baby is four months old. A retained Moro reflex (also known as the infant startle response) is the only reflex which can be elicited by any sudden or unexpected sensory event, for example, a sudden change of position, a loud noise, a sudden change of temperature, noxious tactile stimulation, a bright light or the baby’s own sudden movements.
When ‘shocked’ in this way, the baby’s arms and legs shoot out (open out and extend), there is a sudden intake of breath, adrenaline and cortisol flood the system and the baby freezes temporarily in this position before the arms and legs come in again to clasp onto its mother. The baby will then usually start to cry.
If a child has a retained Moro reflex (i.e. the reflex did not receive enough stimulation in order to inhibit) we often see symptoms including: over-reactivity/hypersensitivity to sound, light, clothing textures, poor impulse control, distractibility in the classroom, dislike of change, a need to control events (OCD, phobias, anorexia), panic attacks, poor emotional regulation and adrenal fatigue. All of these directly cause anxiety and lack of self confidence.
The Moro reflex, if uninhibited, can persist into adulthood, causing long term anxiety which talking therapy or medication cannot address.
The Tonic Labrynthine Reflex and Anxiety
The TLR (Tonic Labrynthine Reflex) is an early infant response to gravity - wherever the baby’s head is moved, the body follows in the same direction.
The first rule of balance, as we develop, however, is that we learn to separate where we move our heads from where we choose to move our bodies.
Proper head and neck alignment is necessary for balance, visual tracking, auditory processing and organised muscle tone, which are all vital to the ability to focus and pay attention.
If the TLR fails to inhibit after three and a half years of age (because it did not receive enough stimulation) then it causes immaturity in the child’s balance mechanism. Every time the head moves, the body moves the wrong way, resulting in instability and loss of balance.
This has the effect of the child feeling anxious and ungrounded, because their ‘inner gyroscope’ is not functioning. They actually are unbalanced and will get easily lost or will bump into things.
This often leads to difficulty with balance, coordination, spatial awareness and anxiety. It also interferes with reading as it prevents the eyes being able to converge to focus on a single point (causing double or blurry vision).
Treating retained reflexes and anxiety
At The Key Clinic we use Neuromovement Therapy. It uses simple, precise exercises to inhibit the primitive reflexes, overcoming blockages and creating new, neural pathways in the brain by maturing the nervous system. It is based on over 40 years of research and is incredibly effective. The results are permanent and the programme does not need to be repeated.
“My son is a completely different child having been through Auditory and Neurodevelopmental courses. It is a joy to see him thriving and full of confidence. We feel so lucky that The Key Clinic has crossed our path. Thank you so very much.”
- West Berkshire Mother, 29th March 2017
Once the internal stresses on the system are alleviated, a child’s nervous system matures and they become more resilient to handle all that life throws at them.
Biomedical Imbalances which cause Anxiety
We know that there are many factors – genetic nutrient imbalances, methylation patterns, sleep cycles – that can modulate the adrenal system and heighten the stress response, predisposing the child to poor stress control and emotional regulation.
We also know that the dopamine system (which is triggered by use of technology, and which is typically impaired in many behavioural or mental health disorders) is reliant on a number of ‘ingredients’ (nutrients – amino acids, vitamins, minerals) of which some are genetically prone to regulate poorly.
We work to remove those barriers which are within our control, using a diverse range of drug-free treatments. We are able to tailor these to the individual in order to build emotional resilience.
One of the most common imbalances we see in children who suffer with anxiety is an imbalance in their zinc:copper ratio. Zinc is necessary for numerous chemical reactions to take place in our body. It supports the creation of DNA, protein building, new cell growth, healing damaged tissue and supporting a healthy immune system (Harvard Education). Zinc also helps to keep our copper levels down.
Low zinc and high copper causes a decrease in dopamine (a neurotransmitter that is majorly responsible for our sense of pleasure, reward and motivation) and an increase in adrenaline (the ‘fight or flight’ hormone), often resulting in anxiety.
To be able to address this root biochemical cause of anxiety, it first needs to be identified. The individual can then be prescribed a targeted dosage of zinc that is reduced over time.
We specialise in a pioneering treatment called Biomedical Nutrient Therapy. This therapy focuses on the role of vitamins, minerals and amino acids in correcting imbalances in neurotransmitters. It allows our clients to have the nutrient support they need in order for their brain to function healthily, without a reliance on drugs.
“Bertie is now a completely different boy than he was this time last year. He carried out a Neurodevelopmental programme and some nutritional work at the clinic and has been truly transformed by it.
He has self-belief. He can ride a bike! He has made it to the ‘A’ cricket team and the ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams in football. He is able to accept change, concentrates well and is no longer easily distracted. Bertie’s use of language and words is now amazing! He is doing brilliantly at school and can read a book from start to finish. I cried, I am so happy and blown away by the results!”
Floss, Mother of 7 year old Bertie
Anxiety in children is absolutely treatable: by identifying, targeting and successfully treating the root causes means that the barriers to learning can be removed.
Children can become happier, more resilient, better able to cope with daily life and reach their full potential at school and beyond.
For more information about our treatment programmes for anxiety in children, contact us here.