As we’re settling in to our new “normal,” it’s completely natural that there’s still some stress and anxiety looming. And that doesn’t just apply to adults. Kids deal with anxiety too, but they may not have the best words or tools to express what they’re feeling.
We spoke with Roshini Kumar, a clinical therapist at Children’s Health about how to help kids manage anxiety.
What are the signs of anxiety in children and teens? Are there different signs for different ages? Children and teenagers can experience anxiety by feeling restless, on edge and irritable. They can also feel lethargic, struggle to sleep at night and have difficulty concentrating. Older children and teens often say they feel consistently stressed.
Additionally, older children and teens are more likely to feel more irritable, have poor energy and struggle to sleep at night. It can show in measurable ways with school-aged children and teens as well, including grades slipping due to difficulty concentrating, or avoiding activities they used to enjoy that now cause stress.
Anxiety can appear differently in younger children, since they don’t have the verbal skills their older peers have. Younger children are more likely to show anxiety through sleeplessness, restlessness, tantrums or meltdowns.
What can trigger those signs? The core of anxiety is fear, so anytime a child experiences an event that threatens their wellbeing or safety, anxiety can manifest. Stressors can range from a personal experience, like worry over failing a test, to something we can all relate to, such as becoming sick in the time of a pandemic.
In both situations, a child perceives their wellbeing, whether academic success or health, in danger.
How can parents help? What are some tools or tips for kids and then tools or tips for parents? We all have a range of our anxiety, on a scale of 1–10. It’s helpful to encourage children to identify their early warning signs of anxiety while parents identify theirs. What do our bodies do? What do our brains tell us when we start to worry? Body signs can look like fidgeting, restlessness [or] inability to sleep at night. Brain signs are thoughts that focus on the worst-case scenario.
Identifying early body warning signs coupled with flipping negative thoughts to reflect positivity and truth stops anxiety before it worsens. Deep breaths, creating a consistent routine, physical exercise, healthy nutrition and sleep hygiene help, too.
What other resources should parents use to help their kids manage their anxiety? Evidence-based organizations focused on pediatric mental health are great resources. They provide information that has been researched and effectively used. I’d recommend our content library at Children’s Health, the Child Mind Institute, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP).
These sites have specific resources for children and their families, and they cover a wide range of mental health topics and practical ways to help children. Also, finding a licensed therapist, family therapist or psychologist is another great way to get specific tips and treatment on how to best help your child.
Image courtesy of iStock.