Are you making your child anxious?

With anxiety becoming the norm these days, children are picking up on parental emotions and are taking huge strain too.

Two of the biggest global issues that are accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic are heightened levels of anxiety and trauma, says educational psychologist Megan Clerk. “Anxiety is a normal emotion that can be characterised by intense and persistent worry or fear, and this has become increasingly prevalent across every age group in the face of so much uncertainty around the world. Right now parents are faced not only with anxiety around their own wellbeing, finances, employment, mental health and so forth, but also around making the correct decisions for and supporting their children. Our schools are opening and our lockdown is being relaxed at a time when the virus hasn’t even reached its peak in our country, leading to even more parental anxiety and trauma. As a result, our children are feeling anxious too.”

“Kids are extremely perceptive and have a way of zoning in on your feelings – especially the negative ones.”

– Megan Clerk

ANXIOUS PARENT, ANXIOUS CHILD?

Regardless of age, children have a knack of picking up on their parents’ emotional states. “Kids are extremely perceptive and have a way of zoning in on your feelings – especially the negative ones,” explains Clerk, “and while it’s important to try avoid passing on all the details of your anxieties to your child, it’s just as important not to hide the way you are feeling. Your child needs to know it’s okay to be anxious, so you need to be truthful in an age-appropriate way. If your child does ask questions, explain that it’s normal to worry while reassuring them that you’re doing everything you can to ensure that you all keep safe. “It’s all to do with being honest,” Clerk adds, “and that honesty starts with you learning how to deal effectively with your own anxiety and stress.” Clerk offers the following tips on managing your mental health:

–  Focus on the things you can control
–  Plan for what you can
–  Limit the amount of time you spend on social media and news channels
–  Have a routine
–  Practice good sleep hygiene
–  Exercise
–  Take time off to do the things you enjoy
–  Get into nature if possible
–  Avoid self-medicating (including alcohol and other substances)
–  Practice meditation or deep-breathing exercises

COMMUNICATION IS KEY

Don’t forget that kids are incredibly resilient, says Clerk, and that most children thrive on reassurance, regulation and routine. “Communication is essential, so set aside time for emotional ‘check-ins’ that offer a chance to ask questions, talk about feelings and get age-censored information and support.” In addition, make sure to do the following:

–  Work together to set up rules during home-learning and living, because structure is important
–  Never discuss topics with your partner in front of children if these are not age appropriate
–  Be extremely careful about telephone conversations that your child may overhear
–  Never discuss COVID-19 statistics or your own fears in front of your child
–  Always discipline in a positive manner
(e.g. talk about the behaviour you want to see, rather than focus on negative or undesirable behaviour)

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