Kids, Anxiety, and the Pandemic
The teenage years present a difficult stage of life for every generation. But throw in the disruption and fear sparked by a pandemic, and today’s teenagers are navigating challenges far beyond those typically faced within school hallways.
The added strain on their mental health shows: the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) showed that mental health-related visits to the ER have risen 31% for children ages 12-17 since the pandemic started.
While you can’t eliminate the modern challenges your children will face, you can provide tools that will help them manage their anxiety in this stage of life and in the years to come.
Responding to a Pandemic
As adults, we have the blessing (and the curse) of wisdom. We know the pandemic is scary, but we’re also able to read the reports of medical experts, follow guidelines to minimize risk, and identify what is within our control and what isn’t.
Children and young teens, on the other hand, may feel confused about what they can or should do as the world changes around them. Younger children may not even have a firm grasp on what exactly is going on, but they are still emotionally intuitive and can sense when adults are anxious and upset.
Children of all ages look to their parents to help interpret ambiguous situations. If they see that their parents are constantly in a state of high stress, anxiety, depression, or anger, they may start to feel—and act on—these same emotions. The first way to help your child feel more calm and secure is to model it yourself.
Admittedly, it’s difficult to stay rational and collected in the face of overwhelming uncertainty. Anxiety is real, and you can’t simply command yourself to feel calm. Putting pressure on yourself to “have it all together” for your kids can just make your anxiety worse.
Instead of pushing down or ignoring fear, it’s best to learn how to manage and de-escalate your emotions when things get overwhelming. It’s perfectly fine to be stressed in front of your children, but take the time to explain to them how you’re feeling in a way that helps them understand. By modeling emotional tolerance, you are implicitly giving them permission to feel stressed rather than burying and suppressing it.
Essentially, the best way to help your kids cope with their pandemic-induced anxiety is first to learn how to cope with your own. Then, you can share what you’re learning as you go.
How to Help
To manage your own anxiety first, try to identify self-care routines that work for you and make time for them. Educate yourself using reliable news sources and medical information. Avoid inflammatory and overly-politicized fear-mongering. When you understand the situation, you’re better equipped to help your child understand, too.
To help your child recognize and better manage their anxiety, try the following strategies:
- Give them structure and routine in their lives. Since things are radically different than they used to be, a bit of familiarity can help children feel grounded and in control.
- Open, constructive, and compassionate communication is the building block of healthy relationships. Allow them to share their feelings and offer yours in return.
- Provide them with age-appropriate information—enough to help them understand the situation, but not so much that they feel frightened and overwhelmed.
- Offer them mental health education by inviting them to talk about their feelings. Share tools that have helped you cope with emotions in a healthy way.
Dealing with anxiety is never easy, especially during a seismic event like a global pandemic. With empathy, patience, and kindness, both you and your child can come through this season more resilient—and perhaps also closer to one another—than ever before.