Teaching Your Kids to Cope: Nurture resilience against anxiety in your children with these simple tips
The CDC reports that anxiety in children is on the rise. From 2016-2019, 9.4% of children aged 3-17 years received an anxiety diagnosis. This percentage shows an increase when compared to reports from previous years of 5.5% in 2007 and 6.4% in 2011–2012 for children aged 6-17 years.
The last several years have been tremendously stressful and traumatic for everyone, and this is especially true for families with school-aged children. In addition to managing common stressors like balancing work with family and paying the bills, parents have faced the extraordinary challenge of navigating the COVID-19 global pandemic, virtual learning, increased economic stress, growing violence in schools, and foreign conflict. On top of these stressors, children experience additional trauma from bullying – one out of every five students report being bullied.
Parents are overwhelmed, and it is no surprise that their fears and anxieties are felt by their children too. Routines have been disrupted, plans and celebrations were postponed, and uncertainty has become the norm for many. But by regularly practicing a few positive coping strategies, parents can foster resilience and promote self-regulation to combat anxiety at home and in school. Additionally, in honor of National Bullying Month, these coping techniques can help with bullying prevention.
Set your children up for success by adopting these coping strategies for managing stress and reducing anxiety:
Talk to Your Kids – While this might seem like an obvious solution for staying involved with your children, some parents find it hard to maintain an open dialogue for a number of reasons. Whether your children become guarded about their troubles, such as struggles with academics or dealing with teasing or bullying, they feel uncomfortable talking about their feelings, or they lack the language or insight into their emotions to talk openly, you can help by continuing to engage your children and reassure them that you are available to talk. Most importantly, use active listening skills by giving them all your attention, avoiding interruptions, and repeating back what you understand to show that you are listening and care about what is being said. You can use this time to process with your children and problem solve together.
Making a habit of talking to your children and staying involved will build trust and encourage them to be open and honest with you when they are struggling with critical issues rather than keeping secrets or trying to cope on their own.
Provide Predictability with Structure – Uncertainty can be a significant source of stress for both adults and children. Children lack the control that adults have, so improving predictability can help reduce their stress. Create regular routines to help foster self-regulation and social development in your kids. Be consistent with rules, set and hold boundaries, and strive to keep unchanging bed schedules and mealtimes.
Modeling – Another way parents foster resilience and healthy coping is by modeling those behaviors for their children. It is not simply enough to talk the talk, you must show children through your own behaviors how to deal with disappointment, anxiety, and fear. If you struggle to hold it together when things go wrong, you can’t expect your children to stay calm and collected. By talking openly about your anxieties and other emotions, you normalize healthy discussion around feelings and show children that it is safe to open up. You can follow this up by sharing and showing how you manage stress by going for a walk (exercise), talking to a friend or your parents, or taking a break and eating a healthy snack with your child.
Eliminating Unhealthy Stressors – Identify and limit unhealthy behaviors and habits that may contribute to increased anxiety and stress for your kids, such as consuming caffeine before bed, inactivity, or spending too much time on their phone, especially on social media.
If your children complain about teasing or bullying at school, encourage them to resolve it themselves in a positive manner, but if it continues, don’t be afraid to schedule a meeting to address it with the school.
By teaching these stress-management strategies, you can foster confidence and instill invaluable skills that can serve your children for life. For additional resources, check out therapistaid.com for more information, and if you find that your children continue to struggle with anxiety or other mental health challenges and need help, reach out to the behavioral health professionals at HopeHealth.