As a child, I had a lot of anxiety. If you’ve ever seen me speak in public, this might surprise you. But anxiety in children is extremely common and affects almost all children to varying degrees.
During the pre-pandemic period, the researchers noted that up to 7% of children suffered from a diagnosable anxiety disorder that interfered with their daily functioning. In addition, 20% had a tendency to feel anxious which did not reach the level of a clinical disorder. And all children feel anxious at one time or another.
As a researcher who has studied children’s mental health for decades, I know that predictability helps prevent anxiety in children. Predictability means that things will turn out the way they always have: sleeping at night, getting up in the morning, cornflakes for breakfast, going to school, activities in the afternoon, having dinner with the family.
In Louise Fitzhugh’s children’s novel “Harriet the Spy”, Harriet’s mother can’t believe her daughter always takes a tomato sandwich to school. Always. Harriet has no interest in variety. She’s perfectly happy with the same sandwich year after year.
Given children’s penchant for similarity and predictability, it’s no surprise that a global pandemic that has interrupted school as children know it, held back seeing friends, stopped extracurricular activities, and banning everything except immediate family members would have a profound impact on children’s anxiety.
A published study I conducted on 238 teens between January and May 2021 at the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center found that an astonishing 64% reported increased anxiety during the pandemic. Even in the spring of 2020, researchers found increased anxiety levels among children in China. Likewise, a large-scale survey conducted by the nonprofit Save the Children found a significant increase in negative emotions, including anxiety, in 48 countries around the world.
Regardless of how the Delta variant affects in-person teaching in fall 2021, the start of the school year this year will be different from the pre-pandemic years. Anxiety can be a challenge for many more children than usual, and it can be linked to other feelings, such as excitement and shyness.
Here are the steps parents can take to help reduce their children’s back-to-school anxiety and encourage a better start to the fall semester.
1. Look for general symptoms of anxiety
Ask your children how they feel about going back to school and watch for headaches, stomach aches, trouble sleeping, lingering “what if” questions, bad mood, excessive worry about distant events, problems concentrating on homework and lingering concerns. which are not mitigated by logical explanations. An example of this could be worrying that there has been no progress in tackling the pandemic, despite widespread information about the development of effective vaccines and better treatments.
The tricky thing, of course, is that any one of these can potentially be an indication of a lot of different issues, so take a second step. Talking to your children about their thoughts can help you determine if they are feeling anxious.
2. Encourage activities that reduce anxiety
Playing outdoors, playing with friends, or even just âgoing outâ can be powerful ways to reduce negative feelings. Outdoors, people often feel more relaxed – the antithesis of anxiety. Playing in an unstructured way, that is, without someone else telling them what or how to play, allows children to successfully manage their feelings and reduce their anxiety.
3. Help your children understand the pandemic
Look for books and activities that can educate children about the pandemic and post-pandemic life to help them feel they understand what is going on around them. Children may not understand what a vaccine is, for example, and how it can protect against disease. People who know more about the cataclysmic events or the relevant facts generally feel less powerless, and children are no exception. There are several age-appropriate books that use pictures and humor to teach kids what’s going on.
4. Focus on family activities
The emotional bond that children maintain with their family is their psychological anchor in difficult times. In an age when daily life has changed so much, spending time with family can be an antidote to uncertainty. Take a walk or hike together, have dinner together, play board games.
5. Embrace the distraction
Distraction is not a cure for anxiety, but it can decrease anxiety and help people think more clearly about where they are worried. When children are feeling very anxious, there is nothing wrong with teaching them how watching an exciting TV show or reading a funny book can help them feel calmer.
6. Get professional help when needed
If your child’s anxiety is interfering with sleep, eating, socializing, or attending school, and it persists beyond a few days, it is a good idea to call your pediatrician or doctor. family and let them know what’s going on. Health care professionals who work with children see anxiety skyrocket in children, and they know how to give your child the help they need.
As with any back-to-school season, you may find yourself shopping for satchels and backpacks. This year in particular, however, children and their anxiety may need more attention. Practicing simple prevention and intervening if necessary can help your children have a great school year.