Anxiety and feeling anxious in situations are much more common than we realize. Children that are self-aware could start experiencing instances of social anxiety starting at four years old. If individuals are not aware of how they are perceived by others are more likely to have social-sensory anxiety. This means they might be overwhelmed by the unpredictability of people and could become sensory overwhelmed by the presence of a large group of people. However, social anxiety is not the only type of anxiety that people can be affected by. There is world-based anxiety that deals with change, performance anxiety where there is anxiety about work that needs to be done, and anxiety related to trauma that triggers emotions and physical reactions. According to a 2018 study in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, anxiety of all forms is now the primary mental health issue for American children. It can be difficult to manage feelings, thoughts, and behaviors when we feel anxious. Here are 5 tips to help children learn how to manage and cope with anxiety:
- Respect the child’s feelings. It is important to remember that anxiety is not a “one-size-fits all” experience. Children need validation for their thoughts and feelings, so never tell children they should not feel sad, mad, or anxious. Let them know that each person may feel differently about a situation, and that is okay.
- Try to learn what makes the child anxious, worried, or even stressed. Identifying these triggering events or phrases can help parents and providers avoid making the child’s anxiety worse. When the source of the child’s anxiety is unknown, comments from providers and parents could increase stress levels for the child because the anxiety is not being acknowledged. If describing these specific phrases, events, or situations are difficult for the child try having the child describe the level of anxiety. It is important to remember that anxiety and stress is not always logical.
- Use more than language to describe what anxiety is. There are several alternatives to have children communicate what the stress levels are, including a visual scale or drawing pictures. Visual scales could include what the child’s stress level is from 1-10 during certain activities such as walking in line, working in a group, playing at recess, or walking into the classroom in the morning. For older children, visual scales could be used for the classes they are in throughout the school day like anxiety levels in math compared to levels in reading. Another way to describe anxiety could be a scale using levels of calm to stressed with people they interact with throughout the day.
- Provide a range of strategies to show that they are not stuck. It’s important for children to understand that their own thoughts and feelings can be noticed, analyzed, and changed. Helping your child become a flexible thinker will help them think differently and reframe the stressors in their life. Current language arts curriculums are starting to incorporate managing stress and understanding the emotions they are feeling. However, with the uncertainty of school and summer, there are resources outside of the school that can help with this. At home, you can find Youtube videos and movies where characters deal with stress and anxiety.
- Teach that the goal is self-management, not comfort. Change and uncertainty have been a major part of our everyday lives, so let them know it’s okay to feel discomfort. Try to be encouraging because stress is stressful. Teaching strategies to cope with the discomfort will improve their anxiety and overall well-being.
Stress and anxiety are affecting children more than ever. This time of uncertainty and change, especially without the routines of school, could increase anxiety and stress for children. Teaching children to respect their feelings, describe emotions with more than language, and self-management could help them cope with anxiety. As parents or providers it is important to learn what could trigger the anxiety for your child and provide them with a wide range of strategies to understand their emotions. Coping with stress should be taught with compassion and patience. Children should learn that they are not different or bad for having anxiety, the world is filled with difficult and stressful situations.
Resources: Winner, M. (2019, November 05). Social Thinking Articles. Retrieved June 22, 2020, from https://www.socialthinking.com/Articles?name=14-tips-help-kids-manage-anxiety