Adults are not the only ones to experience high levels of stress and anxiety. Kids also experience anxiety for a number of reasons. From stressful family dynamics, such as financial worries and divorce, to social stressors, such as bullying, isolation, and jealousy. Constant elevated levels of stress can have both behavioral and physical effects. Sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, headaches, stomach aches, changes in eating habits, even changes in bowel patterns, can all be related to stress. It is important to follow up with a medical practitioner if behavioral or physical changes of concern arise for an appropriate evaluation.
Causes of anxiety may not always be controllable. However, the way stress is managed can be within a child’s control, often with parental support. Below are some strategies to help manage your child’s anxiety.
The power of regular exercise to help manage anxiety is often under-rated. Regular exercise for at least 30 minutes a day five times per week is highly recommended. Exercise helps to encourage positive feelings by releasing endorphins. It also requires kids to step away from activities that could be contributing to anxiety, such as long periods of time on social media.
The key to getting kids to exercise is making it fun so it doesn’t even feel like exercise but an enjoyable activity. Some kids thrive in a team environment playing soccer or netball, while others are more comfortable with non-competitive activities like walking and bike riding.
Adults have a huge role to play in getting kids to exercise regularly by setting a positive example, exercising as a family, and setting ground rules to limit screen time and get kids moving.
Today’s parents are raising a generation of kids that are experiencing a childhood that didn’t even exist when a lot of current parents were kids. iPhones, social media, internet with WIFI connection accessible from almost anywhere. Kids today are experiencing a fierce speed of online interactions. From messaging friends, looking up information, watching videos on YouTube, and online shopping with same day delivery, just to name a few. It’s no wonder their minds may feel like they’re racing and stressed out.
Mindfulness means allowing the mind to rest at ease and be in the moment. Strategies to accomplishing this include meditation, deep breathing techniques and yoga. Even simply being outside in nature paying attention to the sights, sounds, and smells in the moment.
Enrol your child in a mindfulness program that teaches coping and stress management strategies. It’s never too early to get your child to start their own mindfulness or meditation practice. These lifelong skills can set them up for better mental health for life.
The old saying ‘You are what you eat’ continues to have truth to it. Eating junk food typically doesn’t make a person feel well. Eating a healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, fiber, whole grains, and healthy low fat meat options tends to make a person feel better both physically and mentally.
Kids may seem happy to live off of greasy, deep fried, processed foods, sugary drinks, and salty chips. Unfortunately, many of these easy foods lead to low energy, irritability, and obesity – all of which can make anxiety management difficult.
Provide kids with healthy alternatives like whole grain crackers, fresh fruit and vegetables, and foods as close to their natural state as possible. Soft drinks and other sugary drinks should be removed from a kid’s daily drink options and be a treat only.
Ensuring water is readily available throughout the day and when away from home helps kids stay well hydrated, prevents headaches, and helps aid digestion. Additionally, having water available instead of high sugar drinks helps to avoid fatigue and irritability that can occur when high sugar levels drop.
Social media awareness
Most, but not all, kids are eventually tapped into social media of some form. Instagram, Tik-Tok, Snapchat, Facebook – kids are likely using one, if not all, forms of social media on a regular basis. Social media can be fun, entertaining, and even educational if posts on useful subjects are viewed. However, it’s no secret that social media has its fair share of dangers and can cause huge levels of anxiety.
Some dangers to avoid may be obvious but some dangers of social media may be more subtle. Social stressors from social media can arise through jealousy, insecurity, depression, and an unrealistic expectation of everyday life when kids are only seeing other people post their exciting adventures and seemingly unending happiness.
It’s critical that parents talk to their kids about both the obvious and the not so obvious dangers of social media. Curtailing exposure by setting time limits can help kids have some contact with social media and their friends while avoiding the constant updates and feeds coming through. Reminding kids to live their own lives off a screen is important. Conversations about the meaning of ‘likes’ on posts kids make is also important. Kids, and adults, need to be conscious not to value themselves based on their social media likes and replies.
Elevated stress and anxiety levels in kids can have a huge negative impact on their own health and well-being. Stressors aren’t necessarily going away, however, teaching, guiding, and providing positive examples on how to manage stress can help kids develop strategies to last a lifetime. If anxiety levels aren’t improving with some of the above suggestions, professional support through a medical provider or counsellor may be helpful.
Peaceful Kids Program
The Peaceful Kids program is a mindfulness and positive psychology-based program that gives children from pre-school to Year 12 the skills, practice and support to utilise coping strategies that lessen the symptoms of anxiety and stress. It aims to give children lifelong skills for better mental health for long term into their teen and adult years.