A while back, I saw a meme that said “They say the body is 60-70% water…so basically we are all cucumbers with anxiety!” In a time of a global pandemic, this is truer than ever.
As I talk with my patients about mental health, I let them know that everyone experiences anxiety and depression. These are normal experiences in life—for children and adults. I like to keep things simple, so I help kids understand that:
- we feel anxiety when we dwell on things that have not happened yet, and
- we feel depression when we dwell on things that have happened in the past.
Anxiety and depression can happen together like sides of a teeter totter—both are there, but one is usually heavier than the other at any one time. Both are often inherited, so one or both parents of a child may also have anxiety or depression.
Whether a person is feeling anxiety or depression, the resulting behaviors are usually similar. Anxiety seems to be more prevalent, so we talk about it more with kids and their parents.
Common symptoms of anxiety in children include:
- excessive worry
- difficulty concentrating
- trouble sleeping
- physical symptoms like stomachache and headache
However, the behaviors vary based on the age of the person. Roshini Kumar, LPC, clinical therapist at Children’s Health℠ in Dallas, TX points out that:
Young children do not have the words or ability to express how they’re feeling, so anxiety can show up in physical ways such as tantrums, meltdowns or aggression.
Older children, including teenagers, tend to be more irritable or prone to isolation when they feel anxious. Talk to your children about recognizing these warning signs and give them ways to respond when signs appear.
Recognizing the behaviors that go along with anxiety allows us as parents to check in with our children and ask them about their feelings. Allowing children to express their feelings and validating these feelings is an important way to lessen their anxiety and help them recognize that it is normal to feel this way.
We have all felt more anxiety with the isolation and uncertainty in the Covid-19 pandemic, and many families with young children have learned to live by a schedule on a whiteboard or have connected with extended family more. But at the end of a long spring-summer we may have fallen back into old habits.
The increase in cases locally and nationally—right as we were hoping to get back to normal and have normal school—has created even more anxiety (worry about things that haven’t happened yet).
What to do
This post is a reminder of the strategies you may have used but have gotten away from. It’s also a chance to think about the different strategies all together. It’s an opportunity for us to help children (and ourselves!) to really learn the ways of dealing with anxiety:
- Create and follow a routine (and realize that not every day goes according to plan)
- Listen to your child and check in frequently. Validate their feelings. Let them know you don’t have the answers, but you will always be there for them.
- Look for and recognize the signs of anxiety. (Remember these are different based on age).
- Teach coping skills (deep breathing, counting backwards from 100, noticing things that they can see/feel/smell/taste/hear)
- Focus on what you can control (wash hands, social distance, wear a mask, show appreciation, talk with others, get school supplies)
- Encourage positive thinking
- Stay connected (write a letter/email/text, draw a picture for someone, etc.)
- Seek professional help if needed
This last one is important. Signs your child may benefit from professional help include:
- not being able to accomplish everyday tasks
- not wanting to participate in activities they used to enjoy
- not sleeping well which can affect their energy and appetite
Here at Thrive Pediatrics, we aim to help children and those who care for them to truly thrive. Helping kids and parents learn to manage anxiety is a key way we can help. Reach out to us if you have questions or concerns that you’d like to talk about.
Authored by Dr. Brandon Taylor of Thrive Pediatrics