May is Mental Health Awareness Month and with it being the end of the month we don’t want the conversation to end. So we chose to share with you tips to have conversations around anxiety.
Summer is approaching. Soon kids will be done with school and looking forward to the months ahead, where they may not have to get up early or think about the stress of homework. Maybe some do have to participate in that over the summer.
Sometimes the thought of finishing school and not knowing what the summer looks like, gives us a little anxiety. Even coming towards the end of summer when it’s time to go back to school might also give us anxiety. Either way, no matter how anxiety looks like for kids we want to make sure we provide tips for those scenarios.
This month’s blog is about just that: Helping provide tips and conversation starters so that everyone feels prepared or guided in what it might look like. So let’s begin.
What is Anxiety?
According to the American Psychological Department anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts.
Anxiety is not the same as fear, but they are often used interchangeably. Anxiety is considered a future-oriented, long-acting response broadly focused on a diffuse threat, whereas fear is an appropriate, present-oriented, and short-lived response to a clearly identifiable and specific threat.
So, how do we start?
Mayo Clinic wrote an article about helping children manage anxiety and we wanted to highlight their points and share them with you as we help navigate the conversation when talking to the kids in our lives.
The important part is to tell our kids that it’s normal to experience anxiety at times, such as a stressful situation and learn how to understand it and ease the anxious feelings we have at times.
Here are 9 do’s and don’ts to help ease anxiety with kids.
1. Identify triggers.
A helpful first step is for you and your children to become aware of and recognize what causes them to feel intense anxiety. Once those triggers are identified, you can implement many of the tips below.
2. Validate and empathize.
Children’s thoughts, emotions and experiences are real to them. No matter how you think or feel about their experiences, it is important for your children to feel heard, validated and understood. Empathize with your children, imagine what it is like to be in their shoes, and recognize and affirm that their thoughts, feelings and experiences are valid and important.
3. Challenge unhelpful thinking.
Ask your children to talk you through the thoughts they are experiencing that are unhelpful and causing them distress, such as “I am going to fail my test and then fail my class.” Once you know what thoughts your children are telling themselves, you can work with them to identify more realistic, helpful thoughts. Ask questions to get them thinking about their situation differently and decrease their buy-in into their unhelpful thoughts, such as “Have you ever failed a test or class before” or “What have you done in the past to pass a test? Have you done those things now?”
These questions allow children to think through all the evidence and come to conclusions independently. Self-realization is much more powerful than parents, teachers or peers telling children they will not fail. as most children do not buy in to these unrealistic notions.
4. Practice deep breathing.
Deep belly breathing is a tool to help calm down, refocus and think clearer. It increases oxygen levels in the bloodstream and decreases heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension and stress level. Instruct your children to place their hands on their belly and chest.
5. Break down tasks.
Break down tasks into smaller steps so the overall process feels less daunting. For younger children, have random rewards throughout the process to positively reinforce their behavior. For older children, provide positive praise and encourage them to reward themselves.
If your children are worried about specific situations, role-play those feared situations to help them prepare. Examples could include ordering at a restaurant, buying a movie ticket, asking a teacher for help or inviting friends over.
7. Build overall confidence.
Have your children perform tasks around the house to contribute to the family and build confidence. Offer your children opportunities to face challenges. It is important to praise their efforts and focus less on results. If they get stuck, ask your children about skills they used to overcome similar obstacles in the past.
8. Label emotions as bad.
Stay away from labeling their thoughts, emotions and experiences as good or bad. For example, do not say “It is bad to think you will fail.” When children hear that, their thoughts are bad, they often then internalize this and think “I am bad.”
9. Minimize anxiety.
Do not minimize your children’s experiences and tell them to “Just do it” or “Suck it up.” Their feelings of anxiety are real, and they are suffering. Although it is healthy to face things that cause anxiety, meeting children with empathy, compassion and kindness is more helpful and effective when facing feared things.
We really hope that this helps you get started. Here are a few more articles for your resources as well as the rest of the article from Mayo Clinic for you to read.
The earlier we start with kids and have these conversations, the more they feel as if they aren’t alone in the world when having feelings and that’s what we want them to hear.
We have a coloring book called Big Waves Little Waves that is another fun resource that helps around the conversation of Mental Health.
Take a look at another blog of ours that helps with tips to explain what mental health is with your kids.
From Cures of Colors our goal is to help get the conversations started and to be able to provide resources to help that.