Anxious Kids? What is anxiety? Typically, it presents as persistent worry or fear about some possible future event that may or may not occur. It could be focused on something specific like getting the COVID-19 or a parent being deployed. Or, it might not be focused on anything in particular, at least until you start digging.
What does anxiety look like in children? Anxious children under the age of 11 often complain about stomachaches and headaches. They also tend to be more clingy, have more difficulty with separations like going to school and/or parents leaving for work, and also have more difficulty sleeping in their own bedrooms. In contrast, anxious teenagers may become even more withdrawn, moody, and/or obsessive. Unlike children, they may be embarrassed to admit that they are anxious, and this is especially true for teenage boys. This is of great concern because anxiety and related feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and despair in children and teenagers puts them at great risk for not only developing a secondary depression but, later, becoming adults with crippling anxiety.
You may ask, what makes children and teens anxious? Well, the media sure does! Being saturated day-after-day with doom and gloom makes all of us, not just kids, both anxious as well as depressed. Furthermore, parents openly and frequently talking about their own worries and fears in front of their kids is also quite contagious. Suffice to say, parents’ own mental health issues including PTS further contribute to kids’ feeling very insecure as well as anxious.
So, what can parents do? Plenty! First and foremost, make your home a safe and secure haven. Stop watching the media in front of your children! Monitor your own mood and negative statements. If you’re anxious, shield them from your fear-based talk. Openly focus on what you can control and encourage your kids to do the same. That is, be reassuring and positive while at the same time encouraging your kids to talk about their worries. Truly listen to them! Don’t shut them and the dialogue down by prematurely interrupting them and problemsolving.
Being heard is extremely comforting as well as healing.
In fact, sometimes that’s all that’s really needed. Don’t underestimate the power of the parent-child bond. If talking, connecting, and soothing/comforting don’t work, make a “worry box” with your child. Have them write about and/or draw their worries. This intervention is incredibly helpful, especially if parents and children talk about these worries every day and preferably an hour or two before bedtime.
For teens, journaling about their worries is also quite helpful as it gets their persistent worries out of their head and on paper and where they can be seen, talked about, and then discarded.
Of course, if you continue to have ongoing concerns about your kids’ emotional functioning, please consult a qualified mental health provider.
For additional questions, please feel free to blog me at, “Ask the Child Shrink”. Dr. James Shrink is a Child Clinical Psychologist with more 30-years experience. He specializes in evaluating as well as treating boys and teenage boys.