Helping kids cope with anxiety
The race is on. School is back in session. Families go in all directions with work, school, sports and activities. Homework fills the evenings. Weekends now feel like the shortest 48 hours of the week. The pressures of school, demands of full schedules, and expectations in social circles cause great concern to kids. Physically they may be more tired. Mentally they are challenged, which can be good and also a bit intimidating. Emotionally they may feel a bit overwhelmed.
Some kids can adjust and cope. Others cannot. Anxiety sets in. Fear. Uncertainty. Apprehension. Anxiety is an emotion that can cause physical pain and unsettled minds. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, one in eight kids suffer from anxiety.
Kids not only struggle with understanding how to handle the nerves, but also, how to express their feelings. Some act out. Others will withdraw. Understanding the emotion of anxiety is the first step. Knowing how to address your child’s anxiety is your journey. It’s a slow and steady process that cannot be corrected overnight. The good news: there are ways to cope and reduce your kid’s stress.
Acknowledge their feelings. Kids with high stress levels cannot always understand why they react as they do. It’s important not to discount their emotions. Empathize and hear their concerns. Worry is a normal response and warns us of a potential danger. Help your child understand that their emotion is valid.
Role-play. Anxiety can come from all of the ‘what ifs’ that play out in our minds. Talk through these scenarios with your child. Help them find potential solutions for the ‘what if’ concerns. Practicing the ability of being present in the moment is a good exercise for all of us. After role-playing all the potential scenarios that worry them, find a way to bring your child back to the present moment. Talk them through what they can control.
Face their fears. We all avoid the things we do not like. It’s human nature. It’s also important to acknowledge the fears that cause anxiety. Do not avoid them. Start small. If sleeping in the dark causes extreme anxiety, start with sleeping with the light on. Then move to sleeping with a lamp. Eventually, a night light. If they are afraid of monsters, make a ritual to check under the bed, or use that area as storage so nothing can fit under it. Find reassurances that can put their mind at ease while teaching them to cope.
Develop a routine. Anxiety can come from change – or from the potential of change. It can be caused by people’s actions – or the potential of people’s actions. Regardless if your child’s concerns are from valid experiences or the worry of what could happen, teach your child to calm. First, maybe they close their eyes and count to 10. Next, they take 10 deep breaths. Then, give them an outlet to express their concerns. The point is to help them establish a routine that helps them calm down.
Be patient. It is not easy to understand extreme levels of anxiety and where they come from. Coping with these emotions requires consistent thought, attention and time. Recognize it may impact your personal schedule. But a few moments spent teaching your child ways to cope and reduce stress will help them grow into healthy and mature adults.
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