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How can parents spot the signs of anxiety in their children?

If it seems young people today are struggling with anxiety and depression more than ever, it’s because they: According to research, both have increase in children 3–17 years of age over the past 5 years. And while the start of the school year has been rife with worries about being away from parents, learning a new place, fitting in or keeping up with schoolwork, the COVID-19 pandemic has raised the risk of a return. schools. depression.

Rosanna Breaux, assistant professor of psychology and director of the Center for Child Research at Virginia Technology.

“Not having a regular routine or clear expectations, and not having the opportunity to practice things like social interactions or taking tests will lead to an increase in things like performance anxiety and anxiety. society.”

Add to that real worries about catching or potentially spreading the virus to loved ones, and you have an ever-growing list of reasons parents should be on the lookout for the signs. of your child’s mental struggles as the school year begins.

Signs of suffering

Like many different conditions, anxiety can manifest differently in different children, even those in the same family. Symptoms can be emotional, behavioral, and even physical. If your child complains of stomach pain, has a headache, or feels more tired than usual and you can’t pinpoint the problem, it’s likely anxiety. culprit.

Another red flag is the constant need to be reassured with repeated questions. “Anxious kids are often the ones with ‘what if’ thoughts,” Breaux says, “continuously thinking about what might happen.” In young children, this is often coupled with clinginess, tears, or difficulty falling asleep.

Ryan Fedoroff, vice president of learning and development at Newport Academy, a youth treatment center that helps teens cope with mental health issues, says addressing anxiety It can be difficult in teenagers because of the typical desire to grow away from parents and the mood that can accompany those years, but there are clues you can use.

A certain level of anxiety is only part of the adolescent process, and parents wonder, ‘Is this normal adolescent behavior or is it clinical anxiety that requires treatment?’ she says. “But being really bored with homework, having trouble concentrating, or being extremely irritable beyond the typical eye-watering range — those are all signs that something else is going on.”

Breaux adds that for teens, anxiety can also affect grooming habits. “Someone who used to care a lot about how they look may start not to care, or on the other hand you can see a tendency towards perfectionism,” she says.

How to help

Once you become aware of your child’s anxiety, the next step is simple: Don’t dismiss it. Instead, listen and validate their feelings — without diminishing them.

“We usually minimize, say things like, ‘It’s okay,’ or ‘You’ll be fine,’” Breaux said. “But it’s better to actually admit their feelings.” You can say things like, “I know this is hard. Think of some ways you can overcome it. “Name your worries while building trust at the same time.

It’s easy to “fix” your child’s anxiety by avoiding the stressor altogether (such as staying home from school), but Fedoroff says it’s important to resist that urge. “Our job is not to solve problems for them,” she said. “Our job is to stand with them and give them the tools and resources to learn how to manage it on their own.”

She encourages asking open-ended questions to engage your child in conversation, such as “How do you feel about school?” or “What do you feel in your body when you feel anxious?” You can then help them figure out what triggers these feelings and practice ways to manage their responses to those triggers.

It is also wise to develop prevention strategies. Simplify and streamline your morning routine so your kids hit the ground running before the day begins. Arrange a conversation between your child and their teacher outside of the classroom to create a foundation for familiarity, or hang out with new classmates so that things seem less unfamiliar in the everyday environment. their day.

“Process and predictability can really reduce stress for kids,” says Fedoroff. When kids have familiar touchpoints in their daily schedule, it gives them a chance to let their guard down for a while and clear their anxious minds. Simple practices like eating the same breakfast every morning, following the same bedtime ritual every night, or blocking out a specific part of the day to just be with your child create consistent calm and reassurance, while time creating the basis for stronger coping skills.

Also important: Control your own tendency to worry so that you can be your child’s ultimate guide. Watch how much you talk about your worries — or theirs — in front of your kids, and when you find yourself floundering, practice self-care, so they know what it looks like.

“I always use the same type of mask on an airplane,” says Breaux. “Put your own oxygen tank before helping others. You can tell your child when you’re stressed that you need to go for a walk or take a shower. They need to see that it’s completely normal to feel stressed and anxious, and that there are ways to take care of themselves when that’s the case. ”

If you feel concerned about your child’s school anxiety to call a professional, do it sooner rather than later. Most counselors and therapists have full books, which can take several weeks to get a seat. You can always cancel the appointment later if it seems your child’s anxiety has eased in the meantime.

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