It’s been a challenging two years for many families, and there has been an increase in anxiety and mental health disorders in children and adults as they navigate an entirely unknown way of life. Prior to the pandemic, 1 in 5 Canadians experienced a mental health disorder or anxiety – this has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
As someone who has experienced anxiety for most of her life, I recognize the importance of offering my children support and skills to help them cope with mental health.
Here are five tips to help your children combat anxiety both empathetically and effectively.
1. Validate their feelings.
Listen to your children’s feelings and show confidence in their ability to manage an anxiety-inducing situation. I just took an online course with Sonderly and learned how to actively listen and express positive expectations. This can be as simple as saying, “I hear how this new teacher is a worry for you, but I bet you’ll be surprised and will really like your new class!”
2. Stick to a routine and structure in their day-to-day life.
For many people with anxiety and autism spectrum disorder, a change in routine can trigger a whole new set of worries. Build a calendar so your children know what to expect each day. If there is an anticipated change in their routine, try to not draw a lot of attention to it in advance as it will give them less time to worry.
3. Try practicing coping skills together.
A big part of your child feeling comfortable with coping with their anxiety is seeing it in practice. There are courses available that share healthy ways to manage and navigate your own anxiety and offer a safe place for your children to explore what makes them feel best. Healthy coping skills I’ve learned include:
- Using all 5 senses as a grounding technique. Acknowledge 5 things you see around you, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
- Offer physical reassurance. This can be a hug or even just holding their hand – whatever your child prefers.
- Practice breathing techniques together, vocalizing that you are breathing in a calm breath and breathing out any worries.
- Encourage an outlet that helps them feel better, this can be writing in a journal, drawing, singing, or anything that feels calming and safe to them.
4. Lean into online support resources.
Navigating anxiety can be challenging and feel very isolating as a parent. Online education tools can help parents feel comfortable and prepared to support their children. Programs like Sonderly provide valuable information through bitesize, easy-to-understand modules to help parents better understand what their child may be experiencing. I especially love that as a parent with accessible needs, Sonderly has created programs that use captions and audio making it accessible on all devices for neurodiverse needs and is easy to navigate.
5. Be supportive, but not accommodating.
As parents, we naturally want to keep our children safe and away from worries, however, with children who experience anxiety, this can actually cause more harm. If children aren’t given the opportunity to face their anxieties head-on, they won’t be able to practice the skills to combat them.
Instead of avoiding anxiety-inducing situations, name the emotions with your children, “That sounds like the anxiety monster speaking, is he/she making you feel scared? Anxious? Sad?” and remind them of the skills that might work best to manage their anxiety in that situation.
By Tara Jensen, A member of Sonderly’s Parent and Community Panel and British Columbia Mom