Studies show that parental depression and anxiety can have a potential long-term effect on kids; mental health problems are dramatically rising as a secondary effect of Covid19 and social distancing measures. Everyone is stressed and anxious right now, and that includes children. In this unprecedented time, we need to focus on suicide awareness more than ever.
The need for mental health resources for families and children has dramatically increased due to the pandemic, but for many families their resources are cut off. As a parent you may feel overwhelmed with how to help your child through their anxiety and fear, or you are unsure if you should be concerned about suicide or if you should seek professional help for them. To help you out, we have put together this resource. As always- this advice does not replace the help of a professional therapist or doctor. Please seek emergency help or call the suicide hotline below if you or your child are having suicidal thoughts.
7 tips on helping your child cope with anxiety
1. Don’t overmanage or try to eliminate/avoid anxiety and triggers
A short-term solution does not equate to long-term gain. If you go out of your way to avoid their fears and triggers now, it will reinforce their anxiety in the long-term. Each time they avoid a fear or trigger, the harder it will be to face it next time. Instead, help teach your child to manage their fear; teaching them how to function as well as they can through the fear will help decrease their anxiety over time.
2. Communicate positive and realistic expectations
Don’t promise your child that the shot won’t hurt, or that they will do perfect on a test they are worried about. Do communicate that you believe in them and their ability to face their fears. Encourage them to do their best and reiterate that fears will diminish over time. Also strive to have similar expectations for anxious children that you have for your non-anxious children. By continually creating these good but realistic expectations- your child will gain confidence in their ability to work through their feelings and anxiety.
3. Respect but don’t empower their anxious feelings
Validation of feelings doesn’t mean agreement. As a parent, you can be empathetic and understanding of their fears and worry, but you don’t need to give it power by agreeing that they should feel that way. Don’t dismiss their feelings and tell them not to worry or to relax. Instead, try a coping mechanism below and send the message, “I know you feel ________ and that is ok, but I am here and I am going to help you through this.” Give your child time each day to simply vent their worries and maybe brainstorm solutions together- without judgement.
4. Don’t reinforce fears
Sometimes, as parents, we unintentionally reinforce a child’s fear through our body language, tone of voice, or even our words. When a child has a fear or bad experience, be aware of your response. What unspoken message are you sending?
5. Don’t ask leading questions
Use open ended questions like, “How are you feeling about going back to school?” instead of “Are you feeling scared about going back to school?” In this example, you would unintentionally be telling your child that they should be feeling scared. If your child has specific fears related to Covid19, consider downloading this FREE children’s book developed by psychologists to aid in this conversation.
6. Keep the anticipatory period short
When we are nervous about something, the most difficult time is the waiting period before we do it. If your child is afraid of needles and you tell them they need shots a week or hours before their appointment, that gives them more time to build up the fear or anxiety in their mind- making it worse than it needed to be. Try keeping this anticipation period to a minimum.
7. Model healthy coping mechanisms
As you struggle with fear, anxiety, or worry, try talking your child through your thought processes (at an age appropriate level). Tell them how you feel and what you are going to do about it. It is helpful for children to know they aren’t alone in their feelings, and places you as an ally and a resource the next time they feel similarly. Make sure you are giving the message that you can handle anxiety calmly, and you feel good about getting through it in a healthy way.
4 Anxiety Strategies
Feeling occasionally anxious is normal, but it should not interfere with everyday life. Excessive, persistent anxiety is an issue for many people, but there are a range of coping mechanisms and strategies that can help alleviate anxiety. Though not an exhaustive list, here are 4 strategies you can try with your child.
Think things through/reframing
Children who struggle with anxiety often fall into a spiral of anxious negative thought patterns like overgeneralizing, catastrophizing, polarized thinking, and negative filtering (check out our social media for more information on anxious negative thought patterns). Regularly practicing positive reframing can empower your child to combat these irrational thought patterns. Here is how you reframe:
- Name the worry or fear floating around.
- Ask yourself: What is that thought telling me?
- Break it down- is that 100% right/true? Test its validity with follow up questions or follow it down the ‘what if’ trail.
- How can we take that worry thought and change it to a positive thought?
For example, if your child is afraid you will forget to pick them up from school:
- First have them name the thought/fear: they are afraid of being forgotten.
- What is the thought telling them: Maybe it’s telling them they aren’t as important to you than something else? Reiterate that you love them and that they are important to you.
- Is this 100% true? Obviously no but help them understand why, and then walk them through what would happen if you didn’t pick them up from school (get help from a teacher and call you, or a trusted friend would take them home, etc).
- Reframe the thought: By going down the what if’s, they can see that they are capable of problem solving and they will be ok- that is the positive thought.
Avoiding fears all-together is an unhealthy way of coping with anxiety. The truth of life is that we often can’t avoid our fears. If your child is afraid of dogs and you go out of your way to avoid dogs, you are simply validating and encouraging their fear and anxiety. Instead try teaching them to cope by desensitizing them to dogs slowly. This method works for most phobia-based anxieties. In the dog example, you could start by showing them photos and videos of dogs, then talk about what feelings it triggers. Eventually you introduce them to dogs through a barrier like a cage or window, then talk through their feelings. Then consider introducing them to a calm and well-trained dog or a service dog. Remember to keep doing baby steps, moving on to a more difficult step only once they are comfortable with the current step.
Build a coping kit
Help them make a list or a box of coping strategies. This could include deep breathing, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, stress ball, a journal to write it out, art supplies, and getting help from an adult. This strategy helps to empower the child to make an independent choice to cope with their anxiety.
Focus on healthy self-care needs
Anxiety can affect every part of a person’s health; when a person is struggling with anxiety it is easy to forget to take care of the most basic needs. Make sure you are teaching your child to focus on their basic health needs like sleep, healthy meals, drinking plenty of water, downtime to decompress, outdoor free play, and fun daily exercise activities.
September is Suicide prevention and awareness month.
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people 10-24 years old, and a staggering 1 in 8 children between 6-12 has suicidal thoughts. Suicide does not discriminate, and it is a serious concern for many teens. Studies show that suicide is 4 times higher in males than females, but females attempt suicide 3 times as often as males. The most frequent methods used by teens are hanging, jumping from high places, and overdosing on pill or other poisons.
Suicide risk factors/warning signs
- Previous attempt
- Family history
- Physical/sexual abuse
- Sexual orientation
- Depression or other psychiatric illness
- Aggressive behavior/impulsivity
- Physical illness
- Family disruptions (divorce or problems with the law)
- Local epidemics of suicide
- Bullying and cyberbullying
- Traumatic event
- Lack of social support/social isolation
- Substance abuse
- Preoccupation with death (i.e.- recurring themes of death or self-destruction in artwork or written assignments)
- Intense sadness and/or hopelessness
- Not caring about activities that used to matter
- Social withdrawal from family, friends, sports, social activities
- Sleep disturbance
- Giving away possessions
- Risky behavior
- Lack of energy
- Inability to think clearly/concentration issues
- Declining school performance/increased absences from school
- Increased irritability
- Changes in appetite
What to do if your child is suicidal
- First ask child in clear language, “Have you been having thoughts about wanting to die or killing yourself?”
- Listen and respond to your child in a calm manor, respecting their feelings. Allow them space to talk without your own feelings getting in the way. Be aware of what your body language and facial expressions are saying.
- The more warning signs a child exhibits, the higher the risk of completing suicide.
- If you think your child might be at risk:
- Have him/her evaluated by a professional
- Call the local crisis team or suicide hotline
- Or visit the local emergency department
- In emergency call 911
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255 (OR) text HOME to 741741 for free 24/7 help.
If your family has been affected by suicide, know that there is hope. The therapists at New Life Counseling are committed to partnering with you as you navigate life’s many changes and difficulties. Our professional training, experience, faith, and commitment to honoring each individual, enables us to offer counseling that empowers you with the tools, techniques, and confidence necessary to improve your life. Please contact us today to schedule an appointment– don’t wait any longer to get the help you need.