If you think that you are stressed about the return to school and what it might look like, be assured that your kids are feeling that anxiety too. This week, we’re looking at ways to help your children and grandchildren cope with rising levels of anxiety.
Some kids get it. They just do! My four year old is very laid back with most things. She doesn’t like loud noises, so there’s a bit of fear related to thunder, fireworks, sirens… Aside from noises though, she’s pretty much fearless and easy going. There’s not much that makes her anxious. Her older sister though must have inherited the worry gene from my grandmother. She doesn’t have fear of natural things like spiders, the dark, or anything like that. She worries though, and we’ve seen an increase in her worry that might be moving into the realm of anxiety. What’s the difference between them?
According to Dr. Nerissa Bauer, fear is your body’s response telling your brain that you must get out of a particular situation to stay safe. You might notice your heart racing, your muscles tensing, your breathing becoming shallow, and you may start to sweat.
Worry are the thoughts associated with a situation; particularly a future event or potential outcome that gets played out over and over again in your mind. With worry, your brain is so tuned in to these thoughts that it can be hard to manage.
Anxiety triggers both these: negative thoughts and the physical reactions. Usually, a child that becomes unable to act or function normally through their worry or fear is experiencing anxiety. When your child’s worry or fear starts to affect their ability to function at school or at home, it is time to consider speaking to your pediatrician about the situation.
There are things you can do to help your child process their emotions as well. It takes practice, and you need to do these exercises in advance of a meltdown or tantrum.
Label all emotions, positive and negative to give your child an emotional vocabulary. This can be done by using the graphic above. You can take turns reading an emotion and then showing what it might look like and describing it. (And yes, you should totally pick one that lets you act like a pirate, princess, or troll as appropriate for your child.) This exercise helps your child identify the emotion when they feel it, even if they can’t quite verbalize or give the emotion a name. That will come with practice and with you prompting the child with phrases like “you look mad”, “that is frustrating”, etc. You can also model this by explaining the emotions that you feel at times.
Teach your child how to breathe deeply. Again, do this in advance of a meltdown and use a tissue, handkerchief, or scarf. Take a deep breath, and then slowly release it while blowing on the tissue. The tissue should flutter and billow lightly as you evenly release your breath. You can make a game of it by tying the tissue to an action figure and making it their “cape”. Then, let your child try it. That way they learn to take those deep breaths that can help them release some tension and find their happy place.
Bring it all together. The next time your child is feeling a strong negative emotion, bring the skills above all together and say, “I see you’re getting frustrated. You remember what we practiced to help. Let’s take our deep breaths right now!”
Coach your child through the process. The breathing helps with the fear or physical reaction, and the recognition of their emotion helps them deal with the worry or negative thoughts. This gentle reminding and coaching will teach them the coping skills that they need during the midst of a pandemic and later in life too.