Prevention Council: Insulating your child from anxiety

Well before the pandemic, child and adolescent anxiety in America had become increasingly prevalent and had been starting earlier. Clearly, the disruptions caused by COVID-19 aren’t helping.

Several factors are likely contributing to this increase, including the earlier introduction of academics, inescapable 24/7 interpersonal and media connectivity, bad social media behavior, and economic and family instability. Yet there are things we parents can do to insulate our children and reduce the risk. This is a big topic, but the following three strategies can make a difference:

First, manage your own anxiety. Anxious parents often have anxious children. Some of this is hereditary, but some is because, when we are anxious, we transmit our anxiety onto our kids. So, if you have a tendency to be anxious yourself, learn to manage it, and get help if necessary.

Second, help your kids learn to solve their own problems. Anxiety comes when we are unsure whether we can cope with an unfamiliar situation. On the other hand, if we’ve already successfully dealt with a similar situation before, we are less likely to be anxious. Each time we teach our children to do something rather than doing it for them, we build their sense of competence and make them more confident they can handle the next challenge that comes along. This kind of parenting usually takes longer than doing it ourselves, but is worth the effort.

Third, help your children make sense of what is happening. Events don’t necessarily create anxiety; it’s our interpretation of them that can. So, as parents, one of our important jobs is to help interpret and put into context what is happening in their lives. When we stay connected to our kids and know what they are hearing, we can draw them into discussions that help them interpret and cope with what they are experiencing.