Today, our children face more stress and anxiety than ever before. According to the 2018 Children’s Mental Health Report, by the Child Mind Institute,
- * Anxiety disorders are the most common disorders of childhood and adolescence, affecting 30% of young people at some point before the age of 18.
- * In the past 10 years, there has been increasing recognition of anxiety in young people by health care providers, including a 17% increase in anxiety disorder diagnosis.
- * Untreated anxiety disorders are linked to depression, school failure and a two-fold increase in risk for substance use disorder.
It is important that as parents we learn how to talk with them about what they are feeling and why, and how to best handle it. Below, we have put together a few tips & tools to help you guide your child and adolescent through life’s pressures.
1. Confront stress & learn to manage it
When your adolescent is in the middle of a meltdown is not the best time to offer help. Once they have calmed down, talk with your child about what was causing their distress. Have them ask themselves the questions:”Why am I anxious?” “What is the source?” Being able to identify the cause and name the feelings that were occurring during their meltdown will help put your child back in control of the anxiety that overwhelmed them. Then discuss with them a plan that they can put into place when this situation arises again.
2. Respect their feelings of fear without empowering them
One of my children got anxious every time we went to the doctor because she feared getting a shot. Many times my response was, “You will feel it for less than a second. It is just a quick prick. No big deal.” But it was a big deal – to her. So after some research, I learned to listen and empathize with her about her feelings and helped her understand what she was anxious about.This helped to validate her feelings but not amplify them.
3. Think through things & have a plan
Many times anxiety can can be caused by the great unknown or the “what ifs.” “What will happen if I fail my math test?” “What if I cannot find anyone to sit with at lunch on my first day of school?” What if I miss the bus?” Talking with your child about their “what ifs” and making a plan together can put the situation into perspective. For example, if your child misses the bus, they walk home and you drive them to school. If they are late then you walk them into school and sign them in. Taking the time to discuss these situations can help them gain a sense of control over their stress.
4. Avoid avoidance
Helping a child avoid what causes them stress in the short term may make them feel better, but in the long term it feeds the anxiety and fear making it worse the next time the situation arises. Take baby steps towards what they perceive as the threat. If your child is afraid of dogs, start by looking a pictures of dogs, then move to standing at the edge of a dog park and watching them. When your child is comfortable, find a friend’s dog that you know is good with children, and you pet the dog followed by your child petting the dog when they are ready.
I recently learned in Lisa Damour’s book, Under Pressure, that there is an actual science behind why breathing calms us and our anxiety. She shares that when we are anxious our breathing becomes shallow and our brain senses that we are suffocating and tells the brain that our body needs to start freaking out. When we deliberately deepen and slow our breathing our lungs send a message to the brain that all is well and then calms the nervous system. One easy exercise to use with children, especially in situations of test anxiety, is “Five Finger Breathing.” Have them open one of their hands and trace each finger with their other pointer finger, breathing in as they trace the finger up, and breathing out as they trace the finger down. Depending on the child, they can do it as many times as they need.
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