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How To Deal With A Child Experiencing Anxiety

This is our new reality, and my goal is to help herr adapt while providing a safe and comfortable environment.

Motherhood

Like most children in this country, my daughter has been home attending virtual school for almost a year. She was resilient in the face of uncertainty and adapted to the circumstances as best she could. I'd say she's doing a fantastic job for a seven-year-old.

As the weeks turned into months and returning to school and her normal routine seemed less and less unlikely, she continued to persevere. Picking up hobbies like TikTok and gymnastics - she taught herself to do a cartwheel and a split - they helped her keep her morale high. The summer months were even better. The loosened COVID-restrictions meant she could be around more family and a few friends. There were sleepovers at her grandmother's house and play dates with her favorite cousins. My fiance and I took her out for fresh air in between working from home, and everything seemed, well, normal.

Then the fall came, and I started to notice a shift in how she approached the day. She became less inclined to creating and learning new things and grew more interested in consuming the videos of her favorite YouTube stars and staying home and relaxing. The weather change did not allow much to do outdoors, so she made it work. That is when I observed she was becoming increasingly more anxious.

Parenting A Child With Anxiety

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The CDC reports that "anxiety may present as fear or worry, but can also make children irritable and angry. Anxiety symptoms can also include trouble sleeping, as well as physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, or stomachaches. Some anxious children keep their worries to themselves and, thus, the symptoms can be missed."

Her new worries and trouble sleeping were impossible to miss since we quarantined together. She became very literal, questioning the noises from the nearby train station and the airport and wondering if they were anything more than that. I was partly to blame for these heightened emotions; we watched the news without consideration, so she was in earshot of the current events from COVID to racial injustice. I didn't think there was any harm since none of this piqued her interest before, but with nothing but time on her hands, things changed.

There is one concept that comes to mind called the mean world syndrome. It was coined in the late-1960s by U.S. communications professor Dr. George Gerbner, whose life work explored the effects of television on viewers. The Wired wrote:

"His work showed that a heavy diet of violent content in news and entertainment convinces viewers the world is more dangerous than it actually is. Back when Gerbner did the bulk of his analysis, media was a smaller and quieter place. Now we have 24-hour access to news channels, movies, and net content."
We are inundated with news even when we do not go searching for it. As a mom, this brings me pause and reconsideration of how we approach media and technology in our home.

Like some of her hobbies, I think this is a phase brought on by being stir-crazy. Neither one of us has experienced anything like this, and we are all doing the best that we can. It broke my heart when she asked if we would still have to wear masks in the new year, and I had the unfortunate task of telling her yes. She was fine, but it sucked. I wish she could experience her childhood without the fear of this virus and how it's changed the world around her. But, such is life, this is our new reality, and my goal is to help her adapt while providing a safe and comfortable environment.

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How To Deal With A Child Experiencing Anxiety

One of the ways we are combating anxiety is by discussing our emotions out loud. I start with questions like: How do you feel? What brought this on? How can I help? And what do you need (to get unstuck)? We must validate our emotions and recognize how they affect us, and if possible, the root cause. Parents must provide their children with a safe space, to be honest. Next, we have to own them and recognize we control our reactions, not people, places, or events. And with that, sometimes we need help to work ourselves out of a problem, and that's OK.

Anytime we have dealt with adversity in the past, we practiced affirmations. Here are the affirmations that I used to combat anxiety and to help her do the same:

  • I am safe.
  • I am whole.
  • I am complete.
  • Everything is going to be OK.

We repeat this mantra until our spirits lift. I've also incorporated mindfulness to decrease anxiety by focusing on deep breathing to replace the feeling with a more calm disposition.

Have your child breathe in through their nose and out through their mouths for five seconds each. Keep their eyes closed to rest and get into a meditative state. This should help them renew their energy.

I am grateful that I can help her build her emotional vocabulary to use the right words when talking about her feelings. It will make her a stronger, more self-aware person as she matures.

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