M. WINGFIELD JUNE 2020
God did not intend for us to worry over things we cannot control. This is also true for children, not just adults. Some children have a very hard time coping with worry and fear. Anxiety develops when children cannot move past these feelings or do not have the ability to cope with them. They begin to experience physical and mental symptoms which begin to interfere with relationships, school and playtime. According to the CDC, “7.1% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.4 million) have diagnosed anxiety (https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/features/anxiety-depression-children.html).”
HOW ANXIETY PRESENTS ITSELF
Anxiety may appear in multiple ways. Not all children are the same, so not all symptoms will be the same in each child. A child may show signs of significant fear or worry. They may have trouble sleeping or may sleep too much. Some children become very irritable and angry for no apparent reason. Typically, the child doesn’t know why and can’t explain what made him/her angry. Physical manifestations such as fatigue, headaches and stomach issues are also common. These symptoms present many times when a child keeps worries to himself. If your child exhibits physical symptoms, be sure to talk about what may cause this. Call your physician and ask for guidance.
Many times, anxiety is triggered by events, places, circumstances, and/or people. Once you know your child’s trigger, avoiding the situation or implementing coping strategies can take place prior to exposure. Teaching coping strategies–and modeling them–are essential.
John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (NIV).
Meditation–even younger children benefit from being still, with eyes closed, relaxed and calm. There are many apps available for help and great youtube videos for multiple age levels. I’ve included one below.
Music–multiple studies completed in the early 2000’s proved that music is directly related to mood, relaxation, and physiological symptoms. Researchers found that when children listened to music they liked, the heart began beating slower. When this happens, relaxation is taking place. Find a playlist that is calming for your child. It doesn’t have to be classical. Whatever truly makes him/her happy will be ideal.
Naming the stressor–this is essential for anyone with anxiety. Knowing the stressor helps determine the trigger. It also gives a name to a problem that may be able to be solved. Help your child determine ways to solve the problem and find a solution that works for him/her.
Blessings–help your child make a list of all the things he/she feels blessed by. Make a game out of it. You say something you count as a blessing, then have your child share. This is a great way for children to concentrate on positives and to get to know you and your positives.
Philippians 4:6. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Compassion/judgment-free zone–never tell your child that they should not feel the way they are feeling. This belittles the anxiety they feel and indicates they should be ashamed. Always present yourself with kindness, compassion, and a loving heart. Listen. Start by asking your child to tell you about their feelings. Then listen. Don’t interrupt. Just listen. Once your child knows the/she can trust you with feelings, then you will be trusted to help.
Physicians/therapists–there is a terrible stigma associated with mental health. If your child is having difficulty developing coping skills, even with your assistance, it is time to get a doctor involved. Therapy is not a bad thing. It is not shameful. For some children, it will be the source of coping skills. This is essential in having a healthy, happy child.
Prayer–teach your child to go to God in prayer with their worries and fear, as well as to thank Him for blessings. Pray with them so they know the structure of prayer and that God can be approached both in reverence and in love.
Every year, more and more children are diagnosed with anxiety. Most everyone worries and distresses over certain things, which is completely normal. It’s up to us, as parents, mentors, and leaders to model good coping skills for our children. Children take cues from you. If you are anxious, they are anxious. If you are playful, they are playful. Remember, the way you present yourself in times of stress are extremely important. Practice a calm demeanor. Don’t hesitate to explain anxiety to your children when you are in a stressful situation. Sometimes just knowing the “why” behind feelings and knowing they are not alone is enough to develop your child’s coping skills.
Psalm 118:5-6 When hard pressed, I cried to the LORD; he brought me into a spacious place. 6 The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? (NIV)
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