Distressing news is everywhere. Whether they see it on TV broadcasts, read about it on social media, or hear it at school, kids are not immune from learning about disturbing information or alarming world events, such as the spread of COVID19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. A continuing stream of bad news coupled with school pressures and the desire to meet expectations can cause a heightened sense of anxiety in kids.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 31.9 percent of adolescents suffered from an anxiety disorder, and of those who did, an estimated 8.3 percent had “severe impairment.” Unfortunately, the number of kids affected by anxiety appears to be increasing.
But how do you know if your child is suffering from anxiety, and what can you do to help?
Recognize the Signs of Anxiety in Kids
Anxiety can afflict children of any age. And often the symptoms of anxiety are not readily apparent so may go unnoticed by kids and parents. In Psychology Today, psychologist Jeffrey Bernstein says that the symptoms of anxiety in kids often include: “muscle tension, physical weakness, poor memory, sweaty hands, confusion, constant worry, shortness of breath, palpations, upset stomach, and poor concentration.”
These and other symptoms of childhood anxiety may hamper kids’ abilities to communicate their feelings of worry and stress, or they may feel too ashamed or embarrassed to try.
That’s where good old-fashioned parental detective work comes in. Because no matter how inscrutable your child may be, the mind and body almost always give themselves away. So watch out for the symptoms above and for behavioral signs such as changes in appetite, withdrawal from friends, sleeping too much or not sleeping, avoidance of school or poor grades, and irritability. Any of these could be an important sign that more is going on with your child than she’s telling you.
Ditch the Fear
A couple of years ago, Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) was a hot topic in various media. Social media influencers encouraged it, parents didn’t understand it, and kids had severe cases of it. Parents and guardians struggled to get a handle on FOMO in their kids because of a crucial word: fear. Anxiety itself is rooted in fear, and FOMO hasn’t gone away because it capitalizes on fear.
While FOMO among teens is rooted in social media and tech culture, it can be greater than that. One of the most significant sources of anxiety for your child is likely to be the pressure they feel, real or imagined, to live up to the expectations of parents, family, teachers, and friends. We pack our children’s every waking hour with activities, causing them to fear that they will miss out on some other activity or let someone down.
Fear also causes anxiety when young people worry about things they cannot control. How many times have you described your teen as a “worrier”? Many anxious teens fixate on events outside of their control, such as current events. Use current events as opportunities to have conversations with your kids, such as discussing the recent coronavirus outbreak and the impact it might have. Understanding what’s feeding anxiety often helps manage it.
Managing anxiety looks different for every person, especially when that person is a teen. Not freaking out about natural disasters or the next party—which can be of equal importance to teens—is easier said than done.
But just as educating themselves on the sources of their anxiety can help them manage those stresses, there are other strategies parents can encourage to help teens take care of their anxieties.
Get the kids outside and into nature. You can go with them—but only if they want you to. Remember that you are removing pressures rather than adding to them. Encourage your kids to take hikes, go for swims, or even just put down a blanket and count the fireflies that come out at dusk. What matters is that your child disconnects from the source of his anxiety for a time!
This is one of the toughest things to teach kids, often because parents have a hard time saying it themselves. And while it’s easier to tell kids to do what you say, not what you do, one of the best ways to instill confidence in your kids is to be confident yourself. So say no sometimes and teach your kids to do the same.
Ask for Help
The toughest strategy of all, for anyone, can be asking for help. Kids get anxious because they have lost control and can’t ask for help. It’s up to parents to be tuned in. If you have exhausted your resources and strategies, it may be time to seek the help of a counselor. Many counselors are leveraging technology for themselves and are making their services available via mental health coaching apps. Use this format, which could be more comforting to your anxious teen, to get the help your family needs.
Stress is a part of modern life, but for too many children today, stress has spiraled out of control. Today’s youth are too often plagued with anxiety, detrimentally impacting their academic performance and their physical and psychological health. However, you can learn to spot the warning signs and intervene to ensure that anxiety does not rob your child of a healthy, happy, and carefree childhood.
If you think your child’s anxiety originates in school and is causing mental or health issues, it may be time for a change in their school environment. Visit K12.com to discover how to bring public school home.