Since the start of the pandemic, children have experienced an increase in depression and anxiety. This is understandable because they have been isolated from their friends and family. Additionally, no one can tell them what to expect and many have lost family members to COVID.
Also, just as some things were opening up and going back to normal somewhat, we have another significant increase in the number of COVID cases. As a result, a lot of things need to be closed again, there are specific rules about wearing masks, and they may not be able to see their families on Thanksgiving. Again, we are unable to give children definitive answers on when life will return to normal.
As a result, many parents have asked me how to tell if their child is facing anxiety and what to do if they are dealing with anxiety. I can understand why parents are worried, especially since many children tend to try and hide their anxiety because they don’t want to worry their parents.
Therefore, the American Psychological Association (APA) has developed guidelines that parents can use to determine if their child is suffering from anxiety and what to do if he is suffering from anxiety. You can also use the guidelines for depression. I have provided an overview of the APA guidelines below:
The American Psychological Association (APA) offers the following tips on whether children may be stressed or anxious:
- Removing things that the child usually enjoys
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Unexpected abdominal pain or headache
- Extreme mood swings
- Development of a nervous habit, such as nail biting
Parents can actively help children and teens cope with stress by:
- Start the conversation to let kids know that you care about what’s going on in their lives.
- Note the times when children are most likely to talk – for example, in the car or before bed.
- Stop what you are doing and listen carefully when a child begins to talk about their feelings or thoughts.
- Let the children complete their point before answering.
- Listen to their point of view, even if it is difficult to hear.
- Resist arguing over who is right. Instead, say “I know you don’t agree with me, but that’s what I think.”
- Express your opinion without minimizing theirs – recognize that sometimes it is healthy to disagree.
- Focus on the children’s feelings rather than your own during the conversation.
- Soften strong reactions, as children will disconnect you if you appear angry, defensive, or judgmental.
- Word exchange.
o Say “and” instead of “but”
o Say “could” instead of “should”
o Say “not going” instead of “cannot”
o Say “sometimes” instead of “never” or “always”
- Model the behavior you want children to adopt in dealing with anger, problem solving, and overcoming difficult feelings. Children learn by watching their parents.
- Don’t feel pressured into intervening every time the kids make what you think is a bad decision, unless the consequences are dangerous. Children learn by making their own choices.
- Pay attention to the way children play, the words they use or the activities in which they participate. Young children can 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 that children will understand. For little children, this can mean saying simple things like, “We love you and we’re here to protect you.” For teens, it’s important to be honest and upfront about difficult topics, and then give them some room to process 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 adolescents if stress begins to interfere with daily activities for several days in a row.
You can find additional useful information about children 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 of experience in the treatment of children and adolescents. For more information on Dr. Rubino’s work, visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or its podcasts on Spotify or Apple or on Audible.