By Lisa Edwards, M.Ed, Parent Coach
Do you have an anxious child? Here we are halfway through the school year, and our children are experiencing more change than ever before. Currently my own children have been in 3 different learning models, first in hybrid, then to full distance learning, back to hybrid, and soon to be in school full time. But even when they return to school full time, it will look different than pre-COVID.
So how do you help children cope with all of this change? And what if your child already suffers from anxiety? I can tell you firsthand that this has already been an extremely challenging year for both of my children. They both suffer from different forms of anxiety and this has affected them both uniquely.
You Are An Amazing Parent
But what can you do, as a parent who is already tired, stressed, fearful? It can be challenging and draining to always know how to help a child cope with their anxiety. I want to reassure you that you are an amazing parent. If you are reading this, you are already taking the first step by seeking knowledge. That is how you will grow, improve and reflect on yourself as a parent. It shows how much you love and care for your child.
Strategies to Help Your Anxious Child
As you are moving through all of these changes in COVID, here are a few strategies that you can use to help your child.
- Prepare – Talk with your child and help them understand the changes that will be happening. Try to walk through what a day will look like before it happens, all the way from start to finish. You may understand where some of their anxiety lies, such as the bus ride, or maybe they need help finding a new class, or they don’t know who to sit by at lunch. When you are able to talk through this, you can problem solve some of the big stresses they may have.
- Listen – Take time to listen to your child. Sometimes they don’t know why they are feeling the way that they do. They can’t always identify the cause of their anxiety. But if given the chance to talk on multiple occasions, they may be able to understand their own emotions. It was through many different listening sessions with my own son that I determined one of his biggest stresses was finding where his new health class was. We created a plan to help alleviate this on his first day back and at least he felt a little better after he had a plan. Listening sessions also let you as a parent be the outside perspective. You can help connect the dots for your child.
- Expect Emotions – Anxiety is cruel. Even when you identify a cause, you can’t make it go away. It is real, and you have to confirm your child’s emotions. I have spent years trying to “fix it” or help my child feel happy. I now take an approach where I validate their feelings, telling them it is OK to feel sad or scared. It is normal to feel this way. It is better to have these emotions and understand how to cope with them, then to deny these feelings exist.
- Keep Consistency When Possible – With all the change your anxious child may be experiencing at school with COVID, it is even more to keep any regular routines for your child. Keep a consistent routine for after school, or in the evenings. If they have this familiarity, they are able to relax, and after a tough day at school, this is what they need.
- Focus on the Positive – As a parent, we need to understand the influence that we have on our children, with how we react to situations or our own opinions. If you are frustrated with the school district, if you complain in front of your children, they hear that. They feel your frustration and although they may not completely understand it, their understanding is that School is the enemy because it is making their parents angry. Know that your children are always watching and listening to you. Be a role model and focus on the positivity.
- Use Known Coping Strategies – If your child has a history of anxiety, they probably already have a few strategies that they use to cope with anxiety. It takes a lot of time for them to know when to use these coping skills. At the height of their anxiety they don’t always remember to take those deep breaths or count backwards from 10. So one way to prepare is to practice these strategies while they are in a calm state. You can also include these strategies into the “plan” for those high anxiety times. My son often needs a break when he is overwhelmed. When he is starting to feel particularly anxious about a day at school, we talk about all the ways that he can take a break at school.
- Connect With School – Never hesitate to reach out to your school. If you suspect that your child may be having a hard time, it is best to reach out to your child’s teacher, or counselor. They can help to make sure your child is aware of their feelings and help them feel comfortable with their own coping strategies.
This is a very difficult time for everyone. Especially for those that are dealing with any type of anxiety. Keep an eye out for any signs of depression or other mental health issues that can accompany anxiety, and seek professional help when needed for your anxious child.
We are here to help with discussing any of these steps. Contact us for a coaching session or sign up to be a part of our Facebook Group. We can help you create a plan to help your child understand and cope with these strong emotions.