Almost everyone is experiencing some sort of stress right now, including children. And the start of the school season is adding a whole new dynamic to the mix. For some kids, school may be a refuge, while others may feel much happier during the summer break. Either way, as children return to school or remote learning, they may be facing increasing anxiety, whether it’s old anxiety about the beginning of the year, the new stresses of school during the pandemic, or a combination of both.
Below are some signs of anxiety to look for and ways you can help your child cope.
Signs of Anxiety in Children
The way stress and anxiety manifest in children depends on their developmental life stage. Each child may respond differently according to their age, cultural beliefs, personality, coping and communication styles.
Signs of stress and anxiety in children often show up as physical or behavioral changes. In school-age children, changes in mood can lead to an increase in irritability, withdrawal from family and friends, acting out, changes in sleep or eating habits, frequent outbursts or crying. You may also see physical symptoms such as frequent bedwetting, headaches or stomach aches. In teens, you may see similar changes, and they may verbalize feelings of fear, guilt, or even hopelessness.
How to Know When a Child Is Depressed
General sadness or feeling a sense of isolation and fear in response to the pandemic is normal and important to recognize. However, clinical depression is marked by more severe changes in mood that last at least two weeks. Some of the warning signs include feeling a lack of energy, overeating or undereating, inability to sleep or excessive sleeping.
If a child or teenager is exhibiting signs of excessive anxiety or appears to be depressed, we advise parents to reach out for professional guidance and support.
Helping Children Cope
Parents can take actions to help their children cope. The relationship parents cultivate with youngsters early on will help them feel safe and remind them you are there to
protect them. Asking questions and maintaining an open and honest dialogue can help ease the fear or uncertainty that many children and teens are feeling.
It can be helpful to establish a routine and come up with fun activities you can do together as a family. Try to be present and in the moment and work on incorporating mental health and self-care techniques into daily life. For example, allotting time each day when you and your child can talk together, preparing a list of open-ended questions about their concerns or behaviors will help to establish structure and some control during these unpredictable times.
Playing, drawing and doing interactive games are often ways in which children express their feelings and can be good ways for parents to begin conversations about a child’s emotions and concerns.
Asking for help to combat stress, anxiety or depression is not a sign of weakness. It is a strength to acknowledge that you or your family can benefit from an impartial professional’s help. If you find you are frequently concerned about your child, look for additional support or resources that can help you and your child communicate effectively.
Here are some helpful links:
Giselle Rodriguez, LCSW, is the Social Work Program Coordinator for the Charla de Lupus (LupusChat®) Program at HSS.