How to help kids with anxiety
The current climate is tough for many of us. We’re working from home, with all its distractions. We’re living, working and managing our families from home, with all its distractions. We’re playing teacher, parent, babysitter and coach for our kids. We’re worried about our health and our family members’ health. Many of us are feeling anxiety and depression – including our children.
The desire to learn how to help kids with anxiety or depression is becoming more and more common as parents notice changes in their children’s moods, academic performance and more. These are serious issues, and we always recommend seeking professional help. To further learn how to help your child with depression, it’s also important to gain an understanding of what they are going through and how you can empower yourself by taking action.
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How the current climate affects children
Some find it hard to believe that serious mental disorders like depression and anxiety exist in children. The truth is that adults aren’t the only ones who deal with depression and anxiety, especially under current circumstances. Children are actually experiencing something that comes close to feelings of grief.
There are three triggers of suffering: loss, less and never. “Loss” means an absence of someone or something positive. For children, this is clear – they’ve lost their friends and social system. “Less” is the feeling that you don’t have everything you want or deserve, and follows closely with loss. “Never” is the feeling that things will never get back to normal, a familiar worry for many today. This trigger is the most damaging, because it results in hopelessness.
If you’re wondering how to help kids with anxiety or depression, the first step is to take them seriously. Our emotions are powerful, and children and teens haven’t yet developed emotional mastery. They need a strong parental figure to help them regulate their mental health.
Warning signs of depression and anxiety in children
Mood swings and emotional outbursts are normal in children and teens, making it even harder to spot and know how to help kids with anxiety or depression. The warning signs of a serious disorder go beyond occasional mood swings:
- Lack of interest and energy. As kids grow, their interests naturally change. But if your child drops things they used to be passionate about and doesn’t pick up a new activity, that’s a hint to dig deeper.
- Declining social interest. Similarly, friend groups can change, but if your child stops meeting up with friends entirely or has no interest in going out, that could be a sign.
- Low self-confidence. Does your child make off-hand comments about being stupid or ugly? Low self-confidence often goes hand-in-hand with depression and anxiety.
- Academic failure. If your child used to do very well in school and there’s a sudden drop in their grades, that’s a tell-tale sign that something is going on.
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits. The classic picture of a depressed child is one who sleeps all the time and eats a lot. However sleeping less and eating less are also causes for concern.
- Irritability and anger. Anxious or depressed children and teens – particularly boys – are much more likely to express their feelings through anger and emotional outbursts than adults.
- Physical aches and pains. Kids and teens aren’t as emotionally literate as adults. Their symptoms can actually manifest physically, like stomach aches, headaches or muscle pains.
How to deal with a child with depression and anxiety
Once you’ve spotted the signs, you can focus on how to help your child with depression or anxiety. Communication skills are key here, as you always want to approach these important conversations with positivity and support.
1. Listen and ask the right questions
Communication starts with deep listening: make eye contact, give verbal and nonverbal confirmations and focus entirely on your child. When they know they’re your priority, they’re more likely to share with you. When they do, ask clarifying questions to get to the root of the problem and determine how to help your child with depression in the best way.
2. Help them change their self-talk
Low self-esteem can be a big problem for children, especially teens. They’re going through all kinds of changes and might feel awkward, lonely or anxious. Teach your children to identify and replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations and empowering beliefs. It will rewire their brains to focus on the positive.
3. Encourage connection
Despite the prevalence of social media, lack of in-person interactions and being cut off from friend groups can lead children to feel even more disconnected. Help your child with depression or anxiety feel connected by organizing a Zoom sleepover or party. Take them out for a one-on-one day of fun activities. Start a family game night each weekend. In-person connection is more important than ever.
4. Promote healthy habits
Wondering how to help kids with anxiety? Healthy habits go a long way to relieve stress, promote confidence and boost moods. Fill your fridge with healthy snacks. Promote good sleep habits by turning off devices an hour before bed. Encourage your child to exercise, take up yoga or even meditate. It’s never too early to give your child the foundation for a healthy life.
5. Keep it positive
Positive reinforcement is key to building healthy relationships and learning how to deal with a child with depression and anxiety. Rather than punishing them, encourage them to engage in positive behaviors and reward them when they do. A child that feels loved and supported is much more likely to open up to you.
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