The last few years has created many negative emotions for us and our children, we have 5 ways to support an anxious child to help out.
You may be noticing worry in your thoughts, your emotions, and your body. And your child may be feeling it, too. No matter how we try to shield children from experiences that might cause them stress, they are human and living on this planet too, and will at times feel stressed, anxious and worried.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the incidence rate of anxiety in children 17 and under was estimated to be between 7% and 11%. But since the start of the pandemic, the incidence is estimated to have risen to as high as 20%. That’s one in five children who are reporting some level of anxiety. So if your child is experiencing increased worry and anxiety, they are not alone.
Signs of anxiety in children can include:
- Nightmares and other trouble sleeping
- Fidgeting or trouble concentrating
- Separation anxiety or being more clingy than usual
- Acting out, increased irritability or increased tantrums
- Stomach aches or headaches
- Withdrawal from activities or people they previously enjoyed
- Talking about things they fear may happen to themselves or loved ones
As caregivers, it can feel upsetting when our children are struggling, and we can feel helpless or wonder what to do to support them. But you are not helpless; your love and care are a profound source of support for your children.
5 Ways to Support An Anxious Child:
- Help them name their feelings. Children do not always have the words for what they are experiencing, and finding a name for what they are feeling helps them feel more in control of it.
- Help them express their feelings. Some children may benefit from talking about their worries, some may want to draw or write, or some may want to play music, move, or do a puppet show. You know your child best, and listening nonjudgmentally to whatever they need to express can help them know they are not alone.
- Help them settle their bodies. We all experience feelings in our bodies and our nervous systems, and we can’t process our feelings without our bodies. You can support kids with this by practicing breathing (see some fun videos by Sesame Street and Go Noodle for examples). Or you can join them in any kind of fun repetitive movement, like swinging, dancing, jumping, running … you name it.
- Help them feel safe. Help children feel a sense of control by reminding them of all the things they already do to keep themselves safe, as well as reminding them of the things you do to keep them safe and to make the world a better place. And take time to connect with them, through snuggles, cooking, or whatever other nurturing activity helps them feel close to you. Even if it’s brief (hey, I know life is very busy!), those moments can help children reconnect to their safe zone.
- Take care of yourself. When caregivers are expressing their feelings in a safe and healthy way, regulating and calming their emotions when needed, and feeling grounded, children may feel safer and less worried too. You’re human, and you also need space and support for your needs and feelings.
Sometimes you can do all the right things, and your child still struggles to manage their worries. This doesn’t mean that anyone has done anything wrong, but it might mean that it’s time to get some additional support. If your child is experiencing anxiety that is interfering with their ability to enjoy school, friends, family or play, we are here to help.
I provide play therapy and other models of therapy that help children heal from anxiety and express their feelings in ways that are attuned to how they communicate at their developmental stage. Feel free to reach out for a free consultation if you are ready to explore that option.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021, December 15). Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health. https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html
 McLernon, L. M. (2021, August 9). Depression and anxiety doubled in children, pandemic study says. University of Minnesota. https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2021/08/depression-and-anxiety-doubled-children-pandemic-study-says