Does My Child Have Anxiety? (And How Can I Help Them?)

Let’s face it, many of us are in survival mode right now. Our world has been turned upside down since March 2020 and we are doing what we can to simply get through each day.
Stress and anxiety are a little too close for comfort. 
Children are especially vulnerable to changes in our everyday lives. When there is a new routine to get used to, and that routine is ever changing, some difficult behaviors can arise.
Signs of Anxiety in Children

You may be wondering what these concerning behaviors mean for your child. 

  • Not sleeping, or waking in the night with bad dreams
  • Outbursts of yelling or crying
  • Excessive worry
  • Stomach-aches, headaches, tiredness
  • Difficulty concentrating

Anxiety is a natural human reaction. When our bodies perceive danger or a threat (i.e. worldwide pandemic, new school environment, or loss of job, for example), our bodies respond with a rush of adrenaline and other stress hormones that prepare us to make a quick getaway. 
Hence, the problems with everyday functioning, such as concentrating in school, sleeping and eating. 
What Is Normal vs. Concerning?

We all experience anxiety from time to time.
Our children easily pick up on the stress and worry that adults feel. As best you can, try to present at least a neutral description when in a troubling situation, and let your child know that it is safe to explore their feelings.
Some anxiety is normal and can even be motivating and help us stay alert. But when it becomes overwhelming and interferes with the child’s ability to function successfully day-to-day, help is needed. 

How Can I Help My Child?

  • Pay attention to your child’s feelings!
  • Children rely on their caregivers for co-regulation until they are able to regulate themselves. Stay calm and regulated while with your child who is experiencing anxiety.
  • Practicing deep breaths, progressive muscle relaxation, and grounding techniques together can be positive one-on-one time and help both of you to feel more calm!
  • Break down big tasks into smaller ones that your child can accomplish. If your child is worried about a certain event, it can be helpful to role-play or act out ways that your child could handle the situation. 
  • Develop and maintain a routine.. and don’t forget to plan for transitions (i.e. extra time to prepare in the morning if virtual learning is hard).
  • If you co-parent with someone else, put in effort to be on the same page. Have an agreed upon way to manage your child’s anxiety that you are both comfortable with. It is confusing for a child to have one parent who “goes easy on them” and another parent who is “too hard on them” because they do not know what to expect, which can cause more anxiety. 
  • Praise, Praise, Praise! Building up your child’s personal strengths and accomplishments, no matter how small, will help them continue to build competence and confidence.

Is Outside Help Needed?
When a child’s anxiety and worry is persistent, it is important to consult with a therapist who will be able to give you and your child additional support.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) are two examples of evidence-based therapies that can help your child manage their symptoms and get to the root cause. 
Having a child with anxiety can add stress to your family environment. Because of this, it is important for parents to have access to a support network of family and friends. Make sure you are taking care of yourself, too!

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