This past year has been one of sacrifice, adjustments, new normal and a whole lot of anxiety. Uncertainty about our safety coupled with disruptions to routines have put us on edge. That’s especially true for our kids. Many children are experiencing a heightened sense of anxiety that may be unfamiliar to them.
From a psychological perspective, anxiety is normal, especially when we’re faced with sudden changes in our lives and have to grapple with new uncertainties. But when we’re overwhelmed by these emotions, its effects can be harmful.
Children, who don’t have the coping mechanisms that most adults have developed, are particularly vulnerable. So it’s important that we help them deal with these feelings promptly and effectively.
The first step, of course, is to make sure your own anxiety is addressed. Many parents are having a hard time dealing with COVID-19, and oftentimes it shows. When children see that you are upset, it upsets them, too. As parents, we need to demonstrate to our kids how to cope with anxiety in healthy ways. The calmer you appear to your children, the calmer they are likely to be.
It’s also important to recognize the signs of anxiety quickly. Here are some things you should be on the lookout for.
The need for reassurance. Are your children regularly asking you if things are ok, or if relatives are healthy? These questions are likely the result of anxiety. Your positive answers help relieve those feelings.
The need for closeness. Are your kids more attached to your hip than they normally are? Children who are feeling anxious often need the comfort that only a parent can give.
Irritability. Are your children more moody than normal? Are there more instances of tantrums? Are they having trouble sleeping? These are common signs of anxiety.
Physical signs. Are your kids experiencing more headaches and stomach aches than is typical? Anxiety can bring on physical symptoms, such as these.
The news isn’t helping.
Every day for the past year, news outlets – including print, television and social media – have bombarded us with stories that are upsetting. Reports of over-crowded hospitals, exhausted front line workers and mounting death tolls dominate the news. It seems almost impossible to get away from it all.
Be smart about what you and your kids are reading and watching. Consider putting a limit on the number of news stories you and your family are exposed to. Limit screen times. It’s great to be informed. Being overexposed, especially now, can do harm to you and your family’s mental health.
Work to give your kids more structure.
Believe it or not, children actually strive on structure. It makes their lives more predictable and easy to manage. This is beneficial for the child in a lot of ways, but it is particularly effective in curbing anxiety.
So, work to structure their days at home. Alternate chores or schoolwork with fun activities, as well as “play times.” As restrictions are now beginning to lift, take advantage of safe outdoor activities that might be available as well. Also, establish routines that involve exercise, regular meals and healthy amounts of sleep. Your kids will be happier for it.
As new vaccines are introduced and life slowly gets back to normal, chances are your children’s anxiety will subside. But keep an eye on them. Monitor their feelings to make sure the pandemic hasn’t had any long-term impact on their mental and emotional health.
If you do see lingering signs, be sure to contact a mental health professional immediately.