How to Help Kids Cope with Anxiety

A father and son are looking at a laptop together

Today's featured article is provided courtesy of special guest Karen Muston, Connections Academy school counseling consultant.

Children may not understand everything that’s in the news, but they do notice changes in their own world. Changes such as finishing the school year via distance learning can be disturbing to them. Kids may also pick up on the anxiety of the adults nearby. To help you let your children know they are safe and loved during stressful times, try these time-tested approaches recommended by Connections Academy® online school counselors.

Recognize the signs of anxiety in children (and adults!):

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Seeking reassurance (“Will we be okay?”)
  • Tantrums or meltdowns
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Feelings of worry, panic, nervousness, or fear
  • Frequent comments about death or dying
  • Racing heart
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating

Be an example

Everyone is anxious sometimes, especially in uncertain situations. Many parents have more anxiety about the pandemic than their children do. Most children watch parents for cues to determine when and to what level they should worry. Don’t deny that you have stress and anxiety; instead demonstrate how to handle anxiety calmly and with the assurance that you can work through it together.

Help your child find a healthy balance

A certain amount of anxiety can be helpful and can motivate us, but research has proven that left unchecked, anxiety can have negative effects on the body. The goal isn’t to eliminate anxiety completely, but to help your child develop the tools to manage it. Send the message that it’s okay to be afraid, but that he or she  has the strength and courage to get through difficult situations. Openly discuss your child’s fears and anxieties; then help your child talk through some ways to manage them.

Establish a routine 

Knowing what basic activities to expect each day during a time of uncertainty can be comforting. Whether your family is distance learning for the first time or regularly attends online school or homeschool, having a structured daily schedule is beneficial. Be sure to include self-care when establishing a “new normal” in your home. Create a healthy routine that includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, and plenty of sleep.

Practice reframing

Changing our perception of situations can ease anxiety. Help your child develop the habit of finding the positive in negative situations. For instance, when it comes to complaints from your child about not being able to physically spend time with friends, point out that this is an opportunity to learn more about technology and socializing online. Your child can also spend more time with family, while staying safe and helping others stay healthy.

Limit exposure to media and news reports related to the virus  

This is a good time to teach your child about reliable sources of information. Ask your child to come to you instead of social media if he or she has a question regarding the pandemic. You can also set a limit on how many articles or news features your family is exposed to each day.

Look to the future 

Make plans like attending an event online or doing virtual playdates to give kids something to look forward to. Many online school students do this kind of socializing regularly! Planning online interactions and outdoor activities can help children to see a current stressful situation as temporary.

Don’t over-reassure 

Kids need some reassurance, especially in stressful times. However, they can learn to depend too much on reassurance as a way to deal with anxiety—a habit that could follow them into adulthood. Instead, remind your child of all the ways they are already able to take care of themselves, and encourage them to use strategies for reducing anxiety, such as exercise or deep breathing. 

Although the situation may feel overwhelming right now, you’ve got this! With your parenting skills and some expert advice, you can help your child succeed at distance learning and cope with anxiety. Remember to be patient and loving with each other—and you may even emerge from this challenge as a stronger family!

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