The coronavirus pandemic has increased feelings of anxiety and depression for many children and young adults. Parents can help deal with concerns.
Watch your child for signs and help identify the source of the fear. Relaxation exercises can also help treat anxiety.
Fear is normal. So offer some positive distractions like exercise and seek professional help if things don’t improve.
Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, both children and adults. Children and teens may experience anxiety in response to peer pressure, certain family dynamics, or problems at school. The coronavirus pandemic has also increased feelings of anxiety and depression in many children.
Whether your child shares his thoughts and feelings about fear with you, you can always help. Here are eight ways you can support an anxious child or teen.
1. Watch for signs of fear
Symptoms of anxiety can vary greatly from child to child. It’s worth noting that young children in particular typically complain more about physical symptoms of anxiety than emotional symptoms, says Rebecca Aitken. She is a clinical psychologist at the Yale University Children’s Studies Center.
In other words, they are more likely to say they are unwell or complain of physical symptoms than they are to say they are afraid.
Common symptoms of physical anxiety in children include:
- Shortness of breath
- stomach pain
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Less willing to try new things
- temper tantrums
- crying increase
- Avoid things they used to enjoy
2. It helps to find the source of fear
You can help your child identify what’s worrying him by encouraging him to open up about how he’s feeling — as well as asking why he’s feeling this way. So says Neha Chowdhury, psychiatrist and chief medical officer at BeMe Health. “If your child responds with ‘I don’t know,’ she should suggest that you spend the day together looking for evidence of fear,” Choudhury says.
Things that often worry children, according to Rebecca Manis, developmental psychologist and learning specialist at Ivy Prep, are school stress, major life changes such as a move or death in the family, abuse or neglect, and conflicts in the home.
However, you need to know that your child may not always be able to identify the source of his anxiety. Even if they could, there may be nothing they can do about certain triggers – like moving to another city or losing a loved one. Chowdhury says it is more important that they have a space to share and someone to work through their experiences with them so that they don’t feel alone with those feelings.
3. Suggest relaxation exercises
Breathing relaxation exercises and mindfulness exercises that involve noticing but not evaluating feelings can help an anxious child. For example, a small study from 2022 found that 7- to 10-year-olds were less anxious when they learned the breathing exercise.
“For younger children, I recommend taking four deep breaths, four deep breaths, and four deep breaths,” says Choudhury. On the other hand, teens may find it helpful to try meditation. Other relaxation exercises can also help. Some things to try are:
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- conscious diary
- music therapy
- art therapy
Choudhury says all of these activities can help keep a child’s brain engaged so that he or she does not drift into worry or anxiety.
4. Fear is normal
It’s normal to want to soothe your baby. So are phrases like “don’t worry” or “there’s nothing to be afraid of.” Atkin says these well-intentioned reassurances can make your child feel like you’ve ignored or ignored his or her concerns. It is better to admit feelings. For example like this:
- Instead of “Stop thinking about it,” he tries “It takes courage to face your fears.”
- Instead of “give me a smile,” try “I’m sad too.”
- Instead of “I’m sorry you feel this way,” try “How can I help or support you with this?”
When an angry kid smashes his toy or tears up his brother’s book, say you understand his frustration. But also explain that they can deal with their frustration in other ways – for example, tearing off a piece of paper, taking a deep breath, or hitting a ball against the wall.
5. Provides a positive distraction
Sometimes your child just needs a positive distraction to distract himself from what is making him anxious. A distraction can be any activity that interests you:
- Read a favorite book
- Bake your favorite dessert
- Doing sports such as basketball
- Dance to a favorite song
But remember that while distraction can provide some distance from painful or unwanted feelings, it is not a permanent solution.
6. Aerobic exercise can help
A large 2020 study found that children who engage in at least an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity — such as cycling or exercising — experience less anxiety. So if your child says he is anxious or anxious, you can also offer one of the following activities:
- Go for a nature walk
- Do a favorite sport
- go swimming
7. Deal responsibly with your concerns
Teaching your child how to manage their anxiety can go a long way in helping them learn effective coping skills on their own. “One of the best things that parents can do to help their children and teens manage anxiety is to model how they handle their significant feelings, stress, fear, or fatigue. Children always watch their parents and imitate them, even if the older kids and teens don’t like to admit it,” he says. Choudhury.
For example, you can tell your child:
- “Whenever I start to worry about something, I like to write it down in a journal so I can get it out of my head.”
- “I like to do yoga or meditate when I feel scared because it helps me feel calm. Let’s try it together.”
- “Whenever I get nervous, I take a few deep breaths to calm myself down.
8. Seek professional help
You don’t have to worry if your child has temporary anxiety, especially in response to a specific stimulus, such as a major sporting event or final exam. However, if your child remains anxious long after the stressful situation is over, or if his fears worsen over time, he may have an anxiety disorder. Other signs of an anxiety disorder, according to Mannes, include:
- Changes in behavior such as mood swings, tantrums, clinging or crying
- persistent negative thoughts or fears
- Withdrawing from family or friends
- Avoid things that were previously fun
- Frequent stomach complaints or headaches
- Difficulty sleeping, such as waking up in the middle of the night or having nightmares
Keep a record of your child’s symptoms and the situations in which these behaviors occur, says Mannes. You can use this record to discuss your concerns with an expert. Atkin says it might be time to call a therapist if your child is anxious most days and gets in the way of play, school, or the rest of his or her daily life.
Teaching your child anxiety management tools early on can help them develop greater resilience as they reach puberty and later into adulthood. Resilience enables your child to recover from challenges and difficulties by utilizing their unique strengths. This also provides protection against mental illnesses such as depression.
This article has been translated from English by Klemens Handke. You can find the original here.