Since the beginning of the pandemic children have experienced an increase in depression and anxiety. It’s understandable because they have been isolated from friends and family. In addition no one can tell them what to expect and many have lost family members to COVID.
Furthermore, just as somethings were opening up and returning somewhat to normal, we have another significant increase in the number of COVID cases. As a result, many things have to be closed down again, there are definite rules regarding wearing masks and they may not be able to see their families for Thanksgiving. Again we are not able to give children any definite answers regarding when life will return to something normal.
As a result, many parents have asked me how to determine if their child is coping with anxiety and what to do if they are coping with anxiety. I can understand why parents are concerned especially because many children tend to try to hide their anxiety because they don’t want to worry their parents.
Therefore, the APA (American Psychological Association) developed guidelines that parents can use to determine if their child is dealing with anxiety and what to do if they are dealing with anxiety. You can also use the guidelines for depression too. I have provided an outline to the APA guidelines below:
The American Psychological Association (APA) offers the following tips to recognize if children may be experiencing stress or anxiety:
• Withdrawal from things the child usually enjoys
• Trouble falling or staying asleep
• Unexpected abdominal pain or headaches
• Extreme mood swings
• Development of a nervous habit, such as nail-biting
Parents can actively help kids and adolescents manage stress by:
• Start the conversation to let kids know you care about what’s happening in their lives.
• Notice times when kids are most likely to talk – for example, in the car or before bed.
• Stop what you’re doing and listen carefully when a child begins to open up about their feelings or thoughts.
• Let kids complete their point before you respond.
• Listen to their point of view even if it’s difficult to hear.
• Resist arguing about who is right. Instead say “I know you disagree with me, but this is what I think.”
• Express your opinion without minimizing theirs – acknowledge that it’s healthy to disagree sometimes.
• Focus on kids’ feelings rather than your own during conversation.
• Soften strong reactions, as kids will tune you out if you appear angry, defensive or judgmental.
• Word swap.
o Say ‘and’ instead of ‘but’
o Say ‘could’ instead of ‘should’
o Say ‘aren’t going to’ instead of ‘can’t’
o Say ‘sometimes’ instead of ‘never’ or ‘always’
• Model the behavior you want children to follow in how they manage anger, solve problems and work through difficult feelings. Kids learn by watching their parents.
• Don’t feel you have to step in each time kids make what you may consider a bad decision, unless the consequences may be dangerous. Kids learn from making their own choices.
• Pay attention to how children play, the words they use or the activities they engage in. Young children may express their feelings of stress during play time when they feel free to be themselves.
• It is important to explain difficult topics in sentences and even individual words kids will understand. For little kids it might mean saying simple things like, “We love you and we are here to keep you safe.” For adolescents, it’s important to be honest and up front about difficult topics and then give them a little space to process the information and ask questions when they’re ready.
Call your child’s or adolescent’s health care provider or a psychotherapist who specializes in treating children and teenagers, if stress begins to interfere with his or her daily activities for several days in a row.
You can find additional helpful information about kids and stress by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Helping Children Cope webpage at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/for-parents.html.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers. For more information about Dr. Rubino’s work visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple or on Audible.