Anxiety rates are on the rise for children and adolescents in the US. Not surprising. The National Survey of Children’s Health published April 2018 (in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics) noted a 20% increase in anxiety in children ages 6 to 17 between 2007 and 2012.
There are a few factors at play. One large piece is the large involvement on social media that many children and adolescents have today. Children and teens live in a world of trying to please each other in the form of accumulating “likes” and broadcasting their day to day lives for others to see.
Another reason is the sad reality of living in a very politically divisive time, in which our kids are overhearing the evening news, and as you and I both know, the news isn’t all that positive. This is leading to a spike in anxiety, even when our children do not fully comprehend what exactly is being discussed. Add in natural disasters, school shootings, standardized tests, increasing academic demands and extracurricular activity involvement…who wouldn’t be anxious?
What Can I Do As a Parent?
Children shape their world based on the adults around them, the most significant of impressions coming from those adults with whom the child lives and sees the most.
Address your own anxiety, whether it’s through therapy, medication, regular self-care habits, or more will help your children feel less anxious. Keep in mind that your children do not need to know your every thought and inner monologue. Children pick up on these worries and can internalize them, leading to anxious feelings of their own.
Be mindful of what you decide to discuss with your children, and be mindful of the fact that children are very perceptive and can overhear discussion you may have with your spouse, friends and adult family members.
Incorporate regular mindfulness practices for your children to lessen their anxiety. There are plenty of resources out there to help kids relax and self-regulate when their anxiety is high. One of my favorites is Go Noodle, a website and app with a wealth of easy to follow, fun videos for children to watch and practice mindfulness activities.
Talk to Your Child About Their Worries. For very anxious children, a good habit to get into could be to schedule “worry time” to help the child compartmentalize their anxiety and not have it hinder their entire day. “Worry time” can be customized to however works best for your family, but often can be done at night before the child goes to bed.
You can set a timer on your phone for however long you see fit and tell your child that this is their time to get all of their worries out of their mind. Listen to your child share these worries. You do not necessarily have to fix their worries, but validate them and make them feel heard. If a child begins bringing up worries during dinner, give them a friendly reminder that it is not worry time yet, and that they will have time to share these worries later, but should now be focusing on eating dinner and other topics of conversation.
To take it one step further, you can also create a Worry Monster out of an old shoebox. Have your child decorate this Worry Monster in whatever ways they see fit. Your child can then write down or draw their worries and feed it to the Worry Monster, therefore eliminating the worry in their head. This can also be made into a nightly routine if it works best for your family’s schedule.
Overall, our youngsters have very active and anxious minds as a result of growing up in this day and age. Taking a few steps to help your child combat these worries can help them to thrive and increase their social-emotional wellness. Give them the tools to combat these worries, and have regular conversations with your children about their worries in order to foster open communication on the topic.