Column: Recognizing anxiety in childrenJanuary 20, 2021
By Mary Haas
Youth First Inc.
Have you ever been nervous going into a job interview? What about paying bills on time, meeting goals at work, or questioning whether we are doing this whole parenting thing right?
Being an adult is hard! Trying to raise kids and do this whole “life thing” can feel overwhelming at times. It can be hard to imagine that our kids might be having worries of their own.
Sometimes even the best parents can overlook a child’s anxieties and fears. However, their little worries are just as real as our adult worries! It is important that we take a closer look into these worries and how to respond to them.
Although we can’t go back in time and feel every anxious moment or overwhelming feeling that came with our childhood, we can acknowledge that throughout our life anxiety is a steady constant for many of us.
So, what exactly does anxiety look like for a child? How do we respond?
It is important to realize that anxiety can look different for each child; however, there are many common stressors that children experience. Three common worries found in children are the pressures of school, family, and peers. Children may worry about tests, grades, or being called on in class. They might worry about a parent working themselves too hard, a separation within the family, or not getting their needs met. These worries can stem from feeling like they don’t fit in with others to bullying or not having a friend they can trust.
Whatever these fears may look like, you can help! Find out what is on your child’s mind. By being available and expressing interest in your kids’ day-to-day lives, you give them the opportunity to share how they think and feel. If your child seems to be worried about something, ask them about it! Encourage your child to put what is bothering them into words. This helps them verbalize specific details about their feelings, which can help you pinpoint the source of the anxiety they are experiencing.
Another way to help children feel supported and understood is by keeping things in perspective. Sometimes kids worry about big life stuff such as war, famine, and diseases. This is where parents can assure children that what they are feeling is very real while also expressing that adults are working to solve these big issues. Without minimizing feelings, point out that many problems are temporary and solvable. Remind your child there will be better days and opportunities ahead. By teaching children to keep problems in perspective we can help lessen their worry. This helps strengthen our children with resilience and optimism.
Perhaps one of the best ways we can relieve our children’s anxiety is by being positive role models. The most influential lessons we teach our kids are the ones we demonstrate. Our responses to our own worries, stressors, and frustrations can provide an opportunity to teach our kids how to deal with everyday challenges.
If we practice looking on the bright side of our own situations and voice optimistic thoughts, our children can learn to follow suit. When our adult life worries come into play, we can work on remaining positive and having confidence that these problems are temporary and tomorrow is another day.
Mary Haas, LSW, is the Youth First Social Worker for Evansville Christian School in Vanderburgh County. Youth First Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families, provides 64 Master's level social workers to 92 schools in 11 Indiana counties. Over 60,000 youth and families per year are served by Youth First's school social work and after school programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors and maximize student success. To learn more about Youth First, visit youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.
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