Identifying Signs of Anxiety among Children and their Management

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What is Anxiety!!??? 

It is the fear or apprehension of the near-future/ future, about what is going to happen next. And during this time of lockdown, uncertainty about the future will surround people’s and children’s minds with anxiety.

An anxious thought usually starts with “What If”. Nobody knows what the future will hold for us during or after lockdown. During this time, not only adults but many children would also be surrounded with such thoughts and therefore are likely to show anxious behavior. 

But we need to understand that anxiety is also our body’s natural response to stress. Some level of anxiety is likely to change our behavior for the better and prepare us for the uncertainty that the future holds. For example, it is this anxiety of catching Covid-19 that will allow us to maintain physical distance from others and follow other precautions of handwashing, sanitizing, staying at home, etc. 

So is being anxious during this time really that bad!? The answer lies in the intensity and frequency with which these feelings occur. 

Now the question that arises is how to tell whether a person’s anxiety is going to the extreme. Especially if that person is a child or a teenager.

One needs to understand that it’s much more difficult for children to explain or share their feelings. They may respond/ react differently to anxious feelings.

The way they respond will depend upon their age (which will determine their developmental level and communication skills) as well as other factors like presence of mental or psychological illness or psychiatric condition, recent changes in a family environment (separation of parents, death of loved one, etc.) or any other stressor. 

Therefore, it is important to notice the signs of anxiety among children. They may ask several questions regarding Covid-19, the reason for not attending school or not allowed to meet friends, restrictions on moving out, etc.

They may also seek reassurance for things going back to normalcy or not and when? Some may throw tantrums, while others may scream or cry, while some might become aggressive and start using foul language.

Some might face difficulty in sleeping, may seem worried, in distress, or occupied/ lost in their thoughts and some may even come up with physical complaints such as unexplained stomach ache, headache, etc. They may also face difficulty in attending or concentrating on the given task.

They might avoid activities enjoyed in the past and show irritable behavior. In order to understand our children better, we will have to pay attention to their thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and/ or physical concerns. 

Following practices might be helpful in easing the anxiety of children:

1) Stay Calm – Children copy or imitate the adults they idealize. Therefore, it is necessary for parents and other family members to work upon themselves and stay calm.

2) Ask Questions – Ask questions from children about what do they think is happening around the globe or in their city/ community, why do they think they are not allowed to move out of home or attend school, etc. This will help start a conversation. 

3) Listen Actively – Try to know their perception of the entire situation by listening to them. Do not interrupt in between or miss any part. Be an active listener. Alternatively, if the children are better at expressing themselves creatively, encourage them to draw.

4) Acknowledge their thoughts and feelings. Do not dismiss or reject their thoughts or feelings. Assure them that this can happen to anyone and that it is okay to feel this way during such times.

5) Answer their Queries – Provide legit information to the children which are age-appropriate. Try to end each answer on a positive note. Try to answer the questions in a genuine, positive, and practical manner. 

6) Try Maintaining a Routine – This helps in structuring the day and maintaining normalcy. Not having a plan for the day is likely to increase uncertainty and feelings of anxiety.

7) Engage the children in Household Chores in an age-appropriate manner. This will keep them disciplined and teach some needed skills for life. Plus, engagement in day-to-day tasks will give them a sense of normalcy.

8) Engage them in some Fun activities or Games on a daily basis. Try new indoor games and/ or make-believe play. Try some new art and craft activities.

For children who are not very expressive with their thoughts and feelings, try engaging them in art activities. Also, reassure them that you are available whenever they are ready to share or discuss anything.

Hope these general tips would be helpful in handling the anxiety of children.

P.S. – Children already diagnosed with an anxiety disorder may require tailor-made solutions. Therefore, if you have any specific concerns, contact a mental health professional. 

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