Anxiety does not discriminate.
It can impact a person of any age, including the youngest of children, and learning how to cope with those feelings is critical when it comes to maintaining mental health.
We shared the experience of three parents whose children suffer from anxiety and the challenges that come along with it.
Now, Alysia Huck shares with us what three professionals see and what all of us can do to best help our children through the most difficult of times.
“Do you see anxiety and depression specifically in younger kids now because we are seeing it younger and younger all of the time … do you see this being a crisis situation?”
“I really feel it depends on the support system they have around them,” said Ariana Best, LCSW, West Central Human Services. “Really the best is involving those natural supports in their life. When we have those natural supports the crisis doesn’t seem to happen as much because we’re not alone in it.”
“And we are in a crisis right now considering the pandemic.”
Best responds, “Part of decreasing anxiety symptoms is knowledge. That worry and stress is decreased by having more information.”
“One of the things we are trying to push forward and stress is to keep things as consistent and familiar as possible because when we have knowledge we feel less anxious, but also when things are familiar that kind of brings our anxious feelings down,” explained Tracy Famias, social worker, Bismarck Public Schools.
“Kristine, as a teacher, what do you see now, especially when you’re teaching second-grade kids. Can they recognize in second grade that I’m having some problems with anxiety?”
“We are being so much more proactive with our approach to mental and behavioral health where we have universal delivery systems that we use every day,” said Kristine Owens, second-grade teacher, Moses Elementary. “They’re using these techniques as little as 7-and 8-year-olds that I see every day. ‘Mrs. Owens, can I go use the calming tools? I’m feeling very frustrated now.’ For 7-and 8-year-olds to be able to verbalize that to me is an amazing skill that they are going to carry forward for the rest of their life.”
“How do you differentiate that defiance in a kid being quote on quote ‘naughty’ versus a child acting out because of anxiety?”
“We definitely see a spectrum of different kinds of reactions, but I think we’ve really moved past looking at behavior as just straight out behavior,” explained Famias. “If we’ve got some disruptive behavior, we know something else is going on and the key to that is connecting with the child and pulling in the family to help.”
“If you’re 5 years old, it’s really hard and difficult to understand what is going on. Ari, what would you suggest to those kids?”
Best responds, “Children at that age really don’t have the vocabulary to say what they’re feeling because they don’t know. They really don’t know. So helping them get those emotions out in different ways. We just as parents need to be more involved in it.”
“And (LAUGHING) everybody keeping calm, to keep that child calm.”
“So we’ve come a long way, but do you think we have a long ways to go yet in terms of mental health, especially helping our kids?”
“When kids have trouble reading, what do we do? We teach, we teach them how to read,” Owens said. “And if kids are struggling with behavior, what should we do? We should teach and be proactive. And not punish, we don’t punish kids because they have troubles academically, and it’s the same with behavior. They’re ready to learn, and they can get their bodies ready to learn, and that’s a very powerful skill.”
While it can be difficult to find a therapist for a child in a timely manner, there are steps a parent or caregiver can take and tools a child can be taught in the interim.