Anxiety thrives on uncertainty – and these are uncertain times. We can expect our children to feel more than the usual amount of anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. For kids with anxiety disorders, fears and unknowns may become overwhelming. Fears can manifest as anger and defiance. I have been seeing a rise in anxiety disorders during the last few months as well as a rise in behavior problems at home. Parents are struggling how to manage this at home and most time feel that they are failing. If you are a parent reading this, you are not. Anxiety can make kids sound argumentative, illogical and angry. This can be confused with anger and defiance but the core of this is anxiety and fear.
Uncertainty is uncomfortable. We are designed to try our best to avoid discomfort. For anxiety, that can mean avoiding things that produce feelings of discomfort or uncertainty. Avoidance can look like shutting down, checking out, distracting ourselves, or even tantruming.
Here are some strategies to help your child through this:
- Watch for signs of avoidance. Kids may look like they’re procrastinating or being “lazy,” but if they are tense and not enjoying themselves it could be avoidance rather than procrastination.
- Maintain a schedule. Ideally, your schedule is a fixed one. Children thrive on routine and knowing “what is coming next” provides a sense of comfort and safety for them. Knowing when to expect things or what time will help negative behaviors subside.
- Give them choices. Offering choices to children with anxiety can help them make better decisions. This will reduce the ‘tantruming’ and defiance they display. This will also give them a sense of control that most often than not, are seeking and need.
- Control- help them identify what they can and can’t control. Kids as young as toddlers will manifest this need. Having something that is just theirs will fill this need. For example; allowing them to chose an activity they like to do during play time. This will help give them a sense of empowerment and reassurance that it is ‘theirs’.
- As the pandemic continues and most children continue to do school online (NTI), it is vital for them to get some outdoor activity daily. As the weather is starting to get colder, it does pose some limitations on this, however it is manageable. I encourage parents to build in outdoor play in their day- be it eating lunch outside in the yard or going for a quick walk around the neighborhood if they get a quick break during school hours and picking it back up once school is wrapped up for the day.
- Organization- this goes hand in hand with a fixed schedule. An organized home leads to an organized house which leads to stability. Children thrive on stability and this is especially true for children with anxiety or behavior problems. Provide clean work spaces for them to do their school work and school zoom meetings. Clean and organized desks will help them focus better on the task at hand.
If your child is experiencing increasing anxiety and behavior problems, please reach out to our office. We have a wonderful team of trained therapists who are ready to help you navigate through this.