The other day while browsing through Facebook, I came across the story of Hayden Hunstable. I must confess it brought tears to my eyes and brought about all sorts of emotions and concerns. Concern for my own kids and a deep-rooted desire to learn more about how to recognize anxiety in children.
I reached out to a sister-friend who also happens to be a Licensed Therapist and asked her if she would be willing to share her expertise in the area. It was no surprise that the awesome – Mrs. Jenifer Wilcher – of LifeLine Therapy Center agreed to help moms like me get a better understanding of the topic.
Anxiety is a topic that most moms are all too familiar with. However, when it comes to how it affects our children most of us are at a loss. Just the other day, I caught my daughter staring out the window and she looked so sad. I asked her what was wrong and she said: “Mommy, when will I be able to play in the park again?” Right then and there I realized that this quarantine was having more of an effect that I originally thought.
My hope is that this article will inspire us to start the conversation and raise awareness in time to help our little ones.
So Jenny, let’s talk about anxiety in children!
1. Tell us about yourself
I’m a woman of faith, a wife, a mother, a speaker, a writer and I own a business that is more than just my career or my life’s work, it is my calling and my life’s purpose. I am blessed to be able to say that because most people do not enjoy what they do because they were not called to do what they do, but I was at an early point in my life and so for that, I am blessed.
2. What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a worry/fear on a more advanced stage because it is a hindrance to your daily life routine, your relationships, your career, your goals, etc. There is a popular acronym for fear that is False Evidence Appearing Real and that to me sums up anxiety perfectly. I say that because those feelings are real and genuine for a person finding it difficult to manage anxiety and often those on the outside looking in find it hard to understand or see what someone experiencing anxiety feels.
3. Can children have anxiety?
Unfortunately, yes they can :(. Anxiety in children may look quite different than how it shows up in an adult. Most children may be overlooked with having anxiety until it becomes symptomatic, such as in the form of a panic attack. You may minimize their feelings and believe they are just worried because they are children and they have limited understanding or capacity to understand something, but that is the exact opposite of what we should do as parents, guardians, or any caring adult involved in their lives.
4. How can this quarantine/lockdown affect my child?
COVID-19 can actually be a trigger. If a child was worrisome or often seemed to be on edge before, the uncertainty of life as we know it in the midst of this Pandemic can take them over the edge. They may become overprotective of adults in their lives who have to go to work or simply get the essentials at a grocery store and begin to cry or throw a fit because they are worried they will get sick and die. Depending on how the information of this Pandemic is given to them, it impacts their hope for safety for their loved ones and themselves.
All children have been found to thrive with routine and structure. No matter how structured home life is, their prior routine with the place they spent the majority of their day at and the friends and teachers that they spent the most time within a day is no more and disrupts their sense of safety (this is especially true for elementary children more so than for middle schoolers and high school-aged children). Lack of structure/routine for a child is a setup for chaos. Therefore, they may seem withdrawn or real down because they can’t speak to their friends, see their teachers, etc.
Also, extracurricular activities, as simple as going to the library after school every day, or going to church every weekend, is also at a halt and that could have been an outlet that had a positive impact on a child’s everyday functioning.
Let’s consider also going to the playground, especially for those of us, who have four seasons and we are currently in the midst of spring and the weather is quite pleasant and our children who thrive off of getting their energy out in play can no longer do so because the parks are closed. The front yard and backyard is one thing, but you do have some children who do not have that luxury, the park was their font yard and backyard :(.
5. What are some signs that my child might be struggling with anxiety?
As I mentioned previously, most children may be overlooked with having anxiety until it becomes symptomatic, such as in the form of a panic attack. Some of the signs that someone is having a panic attack include hyperventilating/feeling as if they can’t breathe, sweating profusely, shaking, accelerated heart rate, pacing, rapid speech, nausea, puking up, headaches or stomach aches.
Look out for any of these signs and keep a lookout for signs of being withdrawn as they may not want to worry you and keep it to themselves, especially if you are stressed or anxious yourself, as an adult. In their mind, the adults should be able to handle things that they cannot. They feed off of your vibes, so if you’re anxious, they can pick up on it, literally and figuratively.
6. What steps should I take if I think my child is struggling with anxiety?
Check-in with your child every day and let them know that we are all in this together. Limit their time spent on watching the news and reading articles (if they are old enough). Talk to them or even show them motivational videos or articles of people doing acts of kindness in the midst of this or how healthcare workers who see it every day are smiling, not getting sick, and still have hope. Stories of hope and faith, give them hope and faith as well.
Have them reach out to their friends and other loved ones via Zoom, Facetime, Skype, or a simple phone call so they can have the reassurance that they are not alone, Everyone is home and everyone can no longer do the things they used to do, especially the things they loved to do. Basically help them adjust to this new normal and DO NOT GIVE THEM FALSE HOPE, including a date/time period when the Pandemic will be over, no one knows for sure, so please refrain from doing so.
7. Are there resources or tools that I can use to help my child during this time?
If you and your family are people of faith, prayer and meditation are beyond helpful to recenter and remain or become calm.
Teachers are definitely good resources. They have access to activities and other curriculum tools that are age-appropriate and helpful to break down what this Pandemic is really all about.
Your child’s pediatrician may be a great resource as well and even better if the child is close to their doctor they may feel more reassured hearing it from them (don’t take it personally, just be thankful they are reassured );
A PDF Downloadable short book, Hello, my name is Coronavirus, written by Manuela Molina Cruz is a great resource. (*Note: You can download it for free by clicking on the title of the book above or here.)
Also, check out these sites:
If the anxiety seems to be unmanageable do seek out a therapist that specializes in Anxiety and works with children/teens and families. Most therapists are currently seeing clients via a virtual platform that is HIPAA compliant due to the Pandemic. Therefore you don’t have to compromise the safety of yourself or your child to get help. Take a look at www.psychologytoday.comwww.therapytribe.comwww.therapyforblackgirls.com (if you prefer a therapist of color)
8. Anything else you would like to share?
Take care of yourself and tap into your own worries or mood about our new normal.If you need to see a therapist for support please do so. You do not have to do this alone. Be sure to not isolate yourself outside of raising and protecting your children, if you cannot see a therapist for whatever reason, find joy in connecting with friends or joining virtual groups, take a look at www.meetup.com or the MEETUp App for virtual gatherings of different interests, from business to spirituality, fitness, or learning a new language. You need to have some outlets to put your energy into so that negative energy won’t overtake you. (end of interview)
I want to thank Jenny for taking the time to share her expertise with us on such a delicate topic. As a mom, I am concerned about how this pandemic will affect my children. I even find myself wondering what is going on in their minds now that their “routines” have been interrupted. However, knowing what signs to look for, how to start the conversation, and what steps to take helps me to feel better equipped to face childhood anxiety if it were to rear its ugly head.
Note: If you have any questions or would like to contact Jenifer Wilcher. You can reach out to her via the contact information below.
Jenifer M. Wilcher, LCSW
Owner and Psychotherapist at LifeLine Therapy Center
50%off all services for all First Responders and Essential Workers through this Pandemic