During this time of uncertainty, it is important to understand that feeling anxiety is normal. Anxiety is our body’s automatic fight-or-flight response that is triggered when we feel threatened, under pressure or are facing a challenging situation.
As children go back to school, there are several steps family members can take to help reduce their anxiety:
Listen carefully to your children. Children give off verbal and non-verbal cues about their anxiety levels. Pay attention to these cues. Children can convey anxiety and emotional suffering in different ways. It can emerge more as decreased tolerance, increased frustration, isolation and tantrums (in young kids).
When a child appears more anxious, help them to understand that it is helpful to talk about how they are feeling with an adult. Giving children a bit more latitude and time to process the many disappointments related to COVID-19 is important.
Model calm. Parents also give off verbal and non-verbal cues, which children can detect. By reinforcing a sense of calm, it will lessen a child’s anxiety. Consider engaging your children in a daily mindfulness practice like deep breathing.
Have a routine and stick to it. Predictability is reassuring to a child and having a routine can aid them in adjusting to this new normal. Inconsistent experiences may produce more emotional upset and anxiety.
Focus on stress-reduction activities. We know from science that there are some habits we can engage that increase happiness and help mitigate anxiety. These include practicing gratitude, exercising, healthy eating habits, social connection and adequate sleep.
Be kind to yourselves. There is no one right way to cope with the emotional challenges that living in the time of COVID-19 presents. Do not expect perfection of yourself or your children. Holding ourselves up to unrealistic standards can increase our anxiety. Recognizing this is a very difficult and uncertain time and accepting that emotions will run high at times will aid coping. This will pass eventually, and children and families are resilient. It might help to talk about previous times when your family faced adversity and got through it.
Limit time on social media, and your daily intake of COVID-19 news. The news serves a vital role in keeping us informed, but it can also propel our anxiety into a fight-or-flight feeling. It is good to be aware so that we can take specific actions needed to protect ourselves and our loved ones. However, keeping the news on throughout the day needlessly may serve to increase anxiety.
Get help. You don’t need to do this alone. If you are experiencing an escalation of anxiety, talk to a professional who can help you through this difficult time.
Encourage your children. Wear a face mask, cough into your elbow, avoid touching your face, wash your hands frequently, and stay at a distance from others as directed by adults. Taking care of yourself will help everyone to stay safe.
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There can be a variety of a reasons – including environmental, medical and psychological – that may cause a child to suddenly act more anxious or irritable. It can be challenging to determine the underlying cause. However, it is imperative to try to determine the underlying cause to target the appropriate intervention and/or treatment. Your child’s health care provider is someone who can help understand what is happening and how to treat it.
Sometimes these symptoms can indicate an underlying anxiety disorder. Anxiety can present in children in ways that are both similar and different from adults. Like adults, a child may have social anxiety (manifesting as a fear of going to social events, for example) or generalized anxiety (displayed as concern about future events or worry over academic/athletic performance). Children may not be forthcoming about their concerns and worries for a variety of reasons, including a difficulty verbalizing their feelings, desire to be compliant, etc. Instead, a parent may see other signs, ranging from difficulty sleeping, decreased concentration, avoiding school, and physical symptoms such as frequent headaches and stomachaches.
A further discussion with your child’s health care professional is warranted if there are any concerns for the above or other changes in behavior.
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