Anxiety can have a big impact on many aspects of a child’s life: their self-confidence, their academic performance, and their relationships with family and friends. And while different things can trigger their anxiety, the transition from elementary to middle school can be a source of worry for many kids.
Mental health shouldn’t be taken lightly — over the last few decades the stigma around anxiety has lifted, and it’s something you should encourage your kids to speak openly about. In this article we’ll give you some strategies to help any child struggling with anxiety.
What is anxiety?
Put simply, anxiety is a feeling of unease — like worry or fear. But it can manifest itself differently for different individuals.
Sure, it’s “normal” to feel a low level of anxiety at certain moments, before an exam, for example.
But for some children, anxiety is a common part of their everyday lives, and they may find it hard to control these emotions. They feel a sense of nervousness or anxiety most days, even if they can’t pinpoint a reason.
It’s ok for your child to have moments where they’re scared or worried — that’s just being human! But when it becomes a common occurrence that affects other aspects of their lives, it needs to be addressed.
Signs of anxiety in children
Thankfully, there are a few telltale signs of an anxious child — ones that you can keep an eye out for. On their own, some of these are just normal childhood behavior. But when they’re constant or all happening together, it could be a sign of anxiety.
Signs of an anxious child include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Not sleeping, or having bad dreams
- Not eating properly
- Getting angry quickly, or losing control during emotional outbursts
- Constantly worrying or having negative thoughts
- Appearing tense or fidgety
- Crying more often than normal
- Being clingy
- Complaining of stomach aches or feeling unwell
How can anxiety affect a middle school child’s life?
As we’ve said, there’s no “one way” that anxiety will affect a child.
Some children might try to manage anxiety on their own, avoiding any stressful situations or activities that cause them fear. This could lead to them becoming withdrawn and antisocial, or becoming too reliant on adults to deal with things. This also leads to them being unable to manage their anxiety, and they may find it harder to cope with normal everyday stresses at home or at school.
Anxiety can also result in physical symptoms, like sleeplessness, difficulty concentrating, exhaustion, stomach aches and diarrhea, headaches, and irritability. In turn, these can affect their overall quality of life and their willingness to participate in social settings.
8 ways to help an anxious middle school child
When dealing with anxious children, your first response might be to remove any triggers causing them stress. If they’re scared of dogs, you keep them away from any dogs in the neighborhood — right? This works in the short term, but overall does nothing to help treat their anxiety.
Instead, you can teach your children coping skills to help manage their anxiety — this will serve them well into the future, too.
Here are some proven strategies to help your children cope with anxiety.
If your child comes to you with worries and concerns, take them seriously no matter how trivial they may seem. Take time to listen, show empathy, and they’ll be more likely to confront their anxieties rather than repressing or avoiding them.
Say they’re scared of getting a shot at the doctor. Instead of saying “there’s nothing to be scared of, you’ll be fine”, it’s better to tell them “I know you’re scared but I also know you’re very brave and I’m here to help you get through this”.
Be open about anxiety
Have frank and honest discussions with your kids about mental health. The more comfortable they are talking about it, the more open they will be to undertaking practices to help manage it.
Remind them that anxiety is totally normal, and nothing to be ashamed about. You can even talk with them about your own anxieties, and how you deal with them.
Teach breathing exercises
Deep breathing can be very helpful in moments when anxiety threatens to take over. Practice together at home: slow, deep breaths from the belly. Breathe in through your nose for three counts, hold for one, then breathe out for five.
Do this five to ten times. It’s something they can subtly do when feeling overwhelmed in public, and a practice you can even implement into your family’s daily routine.
Getting the body moving can be a great way to manage anxiety. Take walks together a few times a week, and ask them to check in with how their body is feeling afterward. Do they feel calmer? Maybe they’re energized or feeling positive?
Walks can also be a great opportunity for open and honest chats: it’s often easier to talk about tricky subjects when you’re not sitting face-to-face.
Keep a schedule
Feelings of anxiety can manifest from disorder or a lack of routine. Establish a schedule with specific times for waking up, doing homework, eating meals, reading, exercise, and bedtime.
Adding this sense of structure in their life can go a long way in quieting any feelings of being overwhelmed.
Create a gratitude journal
Encourage your child to write down one thing every day they’re thankful for. When they’re feeling negative or anxious, they can read through their gratitude entries and be reminded of all the good in their life.
Remind them of past successes
Anxious children often get triggered by the same situations multiple times. Even if they’ve overcome it in the past, it remains a source of anxiety.
Remind them of the strategies they’ve used before, being as specific as possible. “Last year on your first day of school, you arrived with Ashley so you could find your lockers together. Once you learned your way around, things felt fine.”
How to help a child with anxiety: it starts with small steps
The way that you help your children deal with anxiety can have a lasting impact on their mental health as they grow into adults.
Take the time now to recognize their emotions, and teach your kids to be comfortable with various strategies and coping mechanisms to manage their anxiety when it pops up — as it does, for all of us, every now and then. And, if you want to explore senses and feelings with your child, check out our dedicated worksheet pack!
Link/cite this page
If you reference any of the content on this page on your own website, please use the code below to cite this page as the original source.
Link will appear as How To Help a Child With Anxiety – 8 Strategies Every Parent Should Try with their Middle Schooler: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, August 14, 2020