How to Support Anxiety in Kids and Teens During the Pandemic
Current events have provided perfect conditions for anxiety to flourish. These are unprecedented times. It is okay for our kids to feel uncertain. For children with anxiety disorders or sensory sensitivities, new fears and symptoms may pop up or existing fears may get worse. Kids who have never experienced anxiety might find themselves overwhelmed by all the unknowns in their life during the pandemic. As grown-ups, it is up to us to model and teach the children we care about strategies for managing their feelings.
A Simple Grounding Technique for Calming Down Quickly
We can expect that kids' anxiety may appear for the first time or become more pronounced as the world takes on COVID-19. Grounding techniques are an amazing tool for reconnecting with the present. We love the 5-4-3-2-1 calming technique. Here is how you can use this exercise to help your child relax or get through difficult moments:
- Sit in front of each other with legs crossed, holding hands if that's comfortable for your kiddo.
- Now, have your child name 5 things they can see around them.
- Next, have your kid name 4 things they can touch right now.
- Have your child name 3 things they can hear around them.
- Have your kiddo name 2 things they can taste right now.
- Finally, have your child name 1 thing they can smell.
Your kid may need to practice some deep breathing before you begin.
You might also be asking, "What if we can't engage all 5 senses distinctly?"
If you have the time, take a few moments to be able to provide these experiences for your kiddo. For example, you can apply soft pressure to your child's arm, open a window so your kid can hear what's going on outside, or take out a tin of Calm Presence Scentsory Putty.
Keep Things in Perspective
By its nature, anxiety is not logical. It can be helpful to have a compassionate person help talk out what is actually happening versus what might happen.
Here are some ways you can help your kiddo take on anxiety directly:
- Limit how much news your child is exposed to or reads. If your kid is older, provide guidance for credible sources of news.
- Help your kiddo name anxious thoughts as such and say out loud that the anxious thoughts are not facts or truths. If your child is younger, they can literally give their anxious thoughts a name. "Ziggy the Worry Monster is telling you some untrue things today!"
- Give your kid a trusted grown-up, other than you, to talk to. For example, most schools are providing access to to counselors to keep our kiddos as supported as possible.
- Tell your child what you know and what you don't know. When you model calm behavior through the unknown, it can help your child see a comforting example of being okay with not knowing!
- Give your kid updates that apply to them or that may be helpful for them to know. For example, if you find out that the last day of distance learning will be different from the original last day of school, you can share that information with your kiddo. You can also let them know and assure them that you will continue to give them updates as you get them yourself.
In stressful situations, children might become fidgety or even become sleepy! Moving with a purpose can help.
Here are a few ideas to get the whole family moving together while under stay-at-home orders:
- If you have a trampoline, roll around on it like a ball. Let the soft surface gently massage muscles and ease tension. You can do this exercise on any soft surface if you don't have a trampoline.
- Have a dance party! Take turns selecting the music or create a family playlist. You can create a free playlist on Spotify.
- Play with pets. Pets need to stay active, too!
Provide Opportunities for Connection
Friends are important for kids of all ages. For humans of all ages! It's important to keep children in touch with family and friends. Kiddos need a sense of belonging and community with their peers. Set up virtual homework sessions that can be done with a friend via video chat, or set up phone or video calls on a regular schedule.
While the world looks a bit (okay, a lot) different right now, these tools can help children stay calm and productive.
Don't forget to celebrate the little things - however silly or small - like changing out of pajamas before noon!