According to a 2015 study by the Child Mind Institute, 4 out of 5 kids will have a diagnosable anxiety disorder, while 3 out of 5 children will not get treatment. While anxiety is a part of growing up, there are tell-tale signs that it has become chronic or a condition that might get worse as your child grows up. Especially in the time of COVID-19, when kids have been forced to study from home and keep a distance from their friends, they might need more help than they used to before the pandemic happened. Here are tips to help your child through their anxiety during these difficult times.
Management is the goal, not complete elimination.
Because we often want quick fixes, we think we could eliminate the things that trigger our children or make them unhappy. This isn’t sustainable since we would only be addressing the fruits, not the roots. Instead of simply telling our kids they need to get over their anxiety or removing their triggers, we need to help them tolerate it and function. Management is the goal, not quick-fix solutions, and as they gain tools that can help them function despite being anxious, their anxiety might decrease or completely fall away over time.
Express positive expectations, but be realistic and don’t be pushy.
You won’t be able to promise your child that all their worries will not happen—that they won’t fail an exam, that a classmate won’t laugh at them during the show and tell, or that you won’t be around one day—but what you can tell them is that when those bad things happen, they will be able to manage it, they will be OK, and that you will have their back. It will empower them to know that even if they fail, they will always be safe when they come home.
Support them through uncomfortable situations.
Helping your child avoid things that make them anxious might help them feel better for now, but it will not help them heal from their anxiety in the long-term. If you always bail them out of uncomfortable situations that are good for them, like going to the dentist or a soccer match, they will think that crying can help them escape sticky situations, not because they’re manipulative but because it has worked for them in the past and it can become a cycle.
Don’t invalidate their feelings.
The last thing your child needs to hear is invalidating statements like, “It’s all in your mind,” “Just get over it already,” or “You have so much to be thankful for. What are you so anxious about?” Help them understand what they’re anxious about, and communicate through your words and actions that you understand why they’re scared, that you will always be with them, and that you will help them get through it.
Avoid asking leading questions.
Avoid asking questions that assume how they’re feeling, like “Why are you worried about your math test?” Instead, ask them open-ended questions, like “How do you feel about making new friends in your class? Why do you think something bad like that will happen?” Kids don’t have the capacity to understand their emotions. More often than not, they need assistance in going through their thought process of understanding why a certain activity makes them feel anxious.
Keep them physically safe to the best of your ability.
Natural disasters and other crises like the COVID-19 pandemic can heighten your kids’ anxiety. To help lessen their fear and worry, assure them that you’re doing all you can to keep them safe. If they have many worries about the coronavirus, model health and safety precautions like staying home, wearing a mask when you have to go outside, and washing your hands.
If they’re anxious about natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, and typhoons, tell them your house can handle it because its structural integrity is checked regularly, your wastewater systems are lined with OBIC liners to prevent corrosion and flooding, your roof is reinforced and prepared for severe weather, and your home’s fire and smoke alarms are working perfectly. Don’t just tell them you did these things; actually do them to keep their fears at bay.
Some anxiety and mood struggles are normal, but you should also know when to seek professional help for your child. Know the tell-tale signs, and don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional to help you help your child navigate this hurdle. It’s never too early to address these issues. After all, it’s much easier to build girls and boys than to repair women and men.