Childhood anxiety can manifest as the result of many different scenarios. Let’s take the past couple of years as an example. What are kids seeing and hearing on the news daily? Definitely not sunshine and lollipop good feeling stories. It has been one of the most unusual and unsettling times in modern history. There are uncontrolled fires, a highly contentious political and racial atmosphere, the threat of a recession, and we are still dealing with a global pandemic that has changed the world that we knew to a new normal that can be somewhat unsettling at times. Children are watching all of this and how you, as a parent, are talking about it and handling these events.
In previous years, any one or a combination of these events would be stressful for the average parent. But when you combine these events, one after another, sometimes in tandem, it can be overwhelming for even the strongest adult. Parents don’t have the luxury to just sit and be overwhelmed. They have jobs, bills, children that rely on them, and a host of obligations that do not lend themselves to inactivity or self-pity parties.
Parents sometimes forget that children are very observant and intuitive. A child can feel when Mom or Dad is stressed out. They hear it in their voices and see it in their reactions. Parents cannot shelter their children from every stressful event growing up, nor should they. But, parents should be cognizant of how their reactions shape their child’s view of the world around them.
Here are a few techniques to help children learn to deal with stress and anxiety:
•Help your child to verbalize their fears. Let your child know that it’s okay to feel afraid or anxious, and that they should come and talk to you when they feel that way. Communication is key to allaying a child’s fears. Don’t belittle or brush off any of their concerns, even if it seems trivial to you because it may be overwhelming in a child’s mind. Sometimes scheduling a parent/child vent session works well because then the child feels you are 100% there to hear their concerns, and they may be more apt to share their fears with you.
Teach them how to relax. All children should have a relaxing hobby or activity they can turn to when they’re anxious or just bored. These activities can range from reading, bike riding, yoga, meditation, drawing, singing, etc. Teach them to tap into their creative brain, which will help to tamp down the noise of their anxiety. Take them to the store, or go online and let them pick out a journal designed for kids. There are some really cool journals that include activities to help a child their thoughts.
•Don’t allow their fear to turn into an obsession. This one is huge! If your child continually asks the same questions, or cannot stop talking about something that has them frightened and is overly anxious, try distracting them with a fun activity, family game or movie night, baking or cooking together, etc. Use any activity that you know has brought joy to your child in the past. Relaxing and fun activities help to turn off their anxiety brain and give it time to reset. Also, monitor their access to the news if that is contributing to the problem. Monitor their internet usage and video games (no ultra-violent content) to ensure this isn’t compounding their anxiety.
•Build up your child’s self-esteem. It is difficult for anyone to constantly feel scared or overly anxious when they have a healthy self-esteem. When a child is self-confident, they are better equipped to deal with stressful situations, and this skill set will help them throughout life as they grow and face other adversity.
The ability to embrace a new normal, and adapt to change, is crucial not only for parents, but for their children as well. When kids learn at an early age to adapt to a world that seems to be changing at an unprecedented pace, they will grow up to be adults who will confidently shape the future for their children and generations to come.