I hosted my first Coffee With the Counselor at our local coffee shop this week. Our topic for the morning was: Anxiety: How to help our kids!
Anxiety seems to be a hot topic for the last few years in the school counselor world. I see more and more students each year and I am hearing that from other counselors as well. I decided this would be a great topic to start off our Coffee With The Counselor series. This is the first year I have tried something like this and I was pleased with our turn out. One thing we talked about is that sometimes anxiety and worry are very similar. Here is a rundown of what we talked about for those of you who were unable to attend.
WHAT DO KIDS WORRY ABOUT?
The answer to that is pretty much anything! Kids may worry about things like tests, grades, their changing bodies, fitting in with friends and family problems to name a few. I shared with the group that I had seen a few students who were very worried that they weren't going to have "enough" likes or friends on social media. In essence, if it exists or doesn't exist, a kid might worry about it!
SIGNS OF ANXIETY
Kids show anxiety in very different ways. One child might hold it all in. Another might yell or get angry. And yet another might cry and not even be able to put into words what is exactly wrong. One of our frequent symptoms at school is a tummy ache. We can usually tell if a child has complained of a stomach ache frequently that something is bothering them, especially when they don't have other symptoms. Some kids might even withdraw from others while another kiddo tries to just hold it all together. If you notice a change in your child or a pattern of behaviors that are different than normal, something might be going on with them.
HELPING YOUR CHILD CONQUER WORRY/ANXIETY:
1. Notice out loud---have a casual conversation with your child. Maybe just mention or ask if things are okay, especially if they seem different.
2. Listen to your child---LISTEN attentively and calmly. This means STOP what you are doing, sit down and establish eye contact with your child. No cell phone in your hand (kids number one complaint!). It really doesn't take a lot of time for your child to talk to you once they know you are listening. If you are like me, you might also have to remind yourself to just "zip the lips" and not jump into their words!
3. Put a label on it. Our little kiddos don't have the vocabulary to explain often times how they feel. They know sad, mad and happy and that is often times how they explain their emotions. Helping children understand different feeling words and how to explain them also helps them grow their vocabulary. This will make communicating these feelings more effective later on.
4. Listen and move on. You know that little color wheel that spins when your computer is thinking? Sometimes our kiddos can get stuck just like that and not move on to find something to do that might make them feel better. We can help them by NOT giving the problem more attention than it deserves.
5. Limit stress where possible. There are so many opportunities out there for our kids to be involved. Last night I was working at a junior high volleyball game. As the first game finished up I saw a family hustling through the commons of the school being told, "HURRY UP! We have to get to a football game and if you don't move it we are going to be late!" Families are running in 15 different directions at any given time and this causes stress! Find the happy medium! Figure out what your child truly enjoys or wants to try and go with that. Signing your child up for every club, rec activity or event offered can be a huge stressor for the whole family.
6. Guide kids to solutions. Helping kids to learn to deal with challenging situations is a skill they will benefit from in life! As adults, we have challenges that come our way and we have to know figure out what we are going to do about it. Teaching kids to be problem solvers also empowers them and builds confidence. Avoid the urge to jump in and fix the problem for them. When we do that, we send the message that they are incapable of doing it for themselves and that we don't believe in them to be a problem solver.
7. BIG ISSUES! War, terrorism, kidnapping, school shootings! Unfortunately, our kids are exposed to this all the time on the news or in papers or magazines. Be sure to discuss these things in an age-appropriate manner with your child. Offer accurate information if they have misinformation. Be sure to tell them what adults are doing to tackle the problems and to keep them safe.
8. Highlight the positive! Ask your child "What did you enjoy most about your day?" This type of question is a great way to guide the answer in a more positive direction. Of course, keep in mind that they might respond with "NOTHING!" If emotions are at a real high, let them calm and then ask what is going on. Give plenty of time to listen to the good things as well as concerns.
9. BE A GOOD ROLE MODEL! Even when we don't think our kids are watching us, they are! They see how we respond to stressful situations and learn from watching us. YIKES! That might not be so good if we aren't modeling healthy ways to handle anxiety.
10. Don't avoid things just because they make a child anxious. I like to use the "What if..." questions. Maybe they don't want to try out for a lead part in a play but are worried they won't make it. Try the "What if you don't get the part? What is the worst thing that could happen?" This helps to examine the situation and look at things realistically, instead of catastrophizing it.
I hope this has given you some insight on anxiety. One important fact to remember is this: you don't want to eliminate stress from your life. Stress, which can cause anxiety, can be a motivator. It can help us to get things accomplished, such as study for a test instead of worry about failing it. When anxiety takes over and starts to have negative effects on a person's life, it is probably time to get help from a professional. Start with your child's teacher and school counselor. See if they are noticing things at school. School counselors can help teach some relaxation techniques to students to help them in dealing with stress, worry, and anxiety. Getting active, exercising and eating healthy foods can also help. There are times when a person needs more help. School counselors are able to make referrals to medical personnel or therapists who can also help.