What Anxiety Is, How It Can Affect Your Child & What You Can Do To Help
The term “anxiety” seems to have become a buzzword of sorts in recent years. We talk often of the symptoms of anxiety, effects of anxiety and how to avoid feeling anxiety but we are usually doing so in the context of adults and their daily lives. Anxiety, however, can affect just about anyone at any age, including our middle schoolers.
In its most basic form, anxiety is a naturally occurring and important emotion meant to signal danger or impending threat. But for some this heightened state can become unhealthy and exaggerated and start to negatively impact daily life.
If your child is experiencing heightened and sustained levels of anxiety it can feel confusing and scary for both of you but with some good information and effective strategies, anxiety doesn’t have to rule your lives.
What Can Anxiety Look Like in Middle Schoolers?
Like most things, anxiety can present itself differently depending on the child but there are some clear signs that your middle schooler is dealing with hard emotions.
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, some general symptoms of heightened anxiety are excessive fears and worries, feelings of restlessness and a tendency to be wary or nervous of some kind of threat even when no threat is present.
Other kids may experience a continual level of stress and/or be suddenly withdrawn or uneasy, especially in social situations. They may avoid their normal activities and refuse to try new things that they would normally enjoy.
For those kids feeling high levels of anxiety on a regular basis there are a number of physical symptoms that may also start to appear. Stomachaches, muscle cramps, headaches, fatigue, excessive sweating or trembling and a tendency to be easily startled are all signs of a high and continuous levels of stress and anxiety.
Effects of Anxiety on Middle Schoolers
As with adults, the effects of high levels of stress over sustained periods of time can affect not only the daily life of our kiddos but their long term ability to manage everyday tasks, fully engage in their learning and have happy and healthy social interactions.
For some kids the effects can be educational; they are withdrawn and uninterested in school. They may fall behind in their learning which would, in turn, add to their feelings of stress and anxiety.
It’s also possible there can be more harmful effects; eating disorders, risky social behavior or possible self-harm can occur without good coping strategies to counteract the anxiety.
What Can You Do To Support Them?
Being the parent of a child struggling with anxiety can feel overwhelming and scary. Knowing how best to help them can feel like its own job but you’re not alone! Angelica, our amazing Social Worker, has some tips and advice to help you best support them as they work through these hard feelings.
Start By Validating Their Feelings
When we begin a conversation with our anxious child from a place of understanding, empathy and validation they will feel supported and believed. Whatever they are feeling is very real to them and when they know that you are hearing them and not dismissing their emotions, this helps to build a strong foundation of trust and open communication.
Know When To Problem Solve & When Not To
When a kiddo is in an escalated emotional state, avoid trying to rationalize with them in that moment, it’s not the time to problem-solve. Be a listening ear and help them physically work through the emotions - deep breaths, going for a walk, finding a quiet space, etc.
Know What Strategies Work Best
Identifying and practicing calming strategies with your child when in a calm state can help both of you be better prepared for when those anxious moments happen. This also gives kiddos independence and autonomy in managing their stress and anxiety.
Be the Model
Like so many things in their lives, our children will look to us to know how to behave and handle certain situations. When they see us remaining calm in a stressful situation or when we are helping them through hard emotions, they are taking their coping cues from us.
Ask For Help
There may be times when the struggles your child is facing feels bigger and harder than what you can conquer together. This is when reaching out to the school counselor, your family physician or a therapist may be the best idea.
Strategies for Reducing Anxiety
Try out some of these easy-to-do strategies to manage anxiety and help your child plan how best to manage big, hard emotions when they happen.
In a world that seems to demand more of our kids each day, the possibility of them living with anxiety is very real. As parents trying our best to help them, we can arm ourselves with knowledge and strategies that position us to be the best supporters possible. Remember that you’re not alone in this - ask for help, ask questions and reach out to professionals if you need some extra support.
Adolescence can be a scary and confusing time...remember you are a parent first, a safe and trusted place to land. Be their port in the storm and you’ll be able to weather it out together.
- Learn and use deep breathing exercises
- Journal about your feelings, worries, thoughts
- Meditation using an app, like Calm, to guide you through hard emotions
- Do some big, hard movement; kickboxing, swimming laps, go for a long walk or run, etc.
- Find a safe person to connect with
- Take a break somewhere quiet and calm
We are here to help!
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