Ask a Pediatrician: What Are the Best Ways to Combat Anxiety in Kids?
Thanks so much for your timely and important question.
As a pediatrician, I am seeing an increased number of children suffering with anxiety, phobias, and other mental health issues during this pandemic. Mental health issues can either surface or worsen during a constant state of stress — and this pandemic has certainly been exhausting for all of us, including children!
Whether these feelings are related to worries about contracting the virus itself or whether kids are concerned about their grades, making friends, or their upcoming dance recital — all the stresses of everyday life can seem so much heavier during a pandemic. In addition, your child may or may not be able to directly communicate to you that they are experiencing negative emotions. These feelings may present in the form of frequent visits to the school nurse for “stomach aches,” or saying they do not want to go to school. It’s important to look out for these signs.
The next step is to let your child know that it is okay to express their anxiety and fears. As a parent/caregiver, it’s important that your child sees you as a safe person who they can approach to discuss their feelings. It’s vital to be open and accepting. They may sense that this pandemic has been stressful for you too — and it’s ok for you to be vulnerable and honest. In turn, it may help them want to share their feelings with you. When it comes to your child’s feelings, remember that listening to them and making them feel heard is key.
Let them know that these feelings of anxiety, sadness, or stress are nothing to be ashamed of. Mental health stigma starts quite early — and it’s important to let them know just how important their feelings are to you and how vital it is to address them head-on. Encourage them to speak with someone they trust regarding their feelings — such as friends, family, teachers, school counselors, and mental health professionals. They may be surprised to learn that many of their peers and mentors are feeling the same way.
Try introducing some healthy coping strategies that may work for your child. Brief sessions of deep breathing and mindfulness have been extremely helpful for many children. Enjoying a new hobby (like drawing, reading, or dancing), spending time with family and friends, and journaling about their feelings could all help to alleviate negative emotions.
Most importantly, please do not hesitate to talk to your pediatrician or a mental health specialist if you are concerned about your child’s mental health. Depending on what is going on and how severe your child’s phobia, anxiety, or depression is, your child may need regular therapy sessions or need to see a psychiatrist. If this is what is needed, reassure your child that needing professional help is nothing to be ashamed of. Mental health is just as important as physical health!
As a pediatrician, I can attest to one thing — children are incredibly resilient. I am continuously surprised and inspired by children’s ability to pick themselves up and keep going, no matter how hard life can get. While these past couple of years have been undoubtedly trying, a silver lining may be that your child will learn healthy coping strategies and important mental health lessons that they can use well into adulthood. Sending love to you and your family!
—Dr. Risa Hoshino