With school back in session, your child’s stress and anxiety may be increasing due to homework, exams and after school activities. Add to that the constant stimulation of electronics, which creates social pressure and in some cases, cyberbullying.
All of this can make your child feel like they’re being pulled in many different directions and manifest as stress and anxiety. The good news is that you have the power to help.
How do I know if my child is feeling stressed or anxious?
Elementary-aged children might experience regression. This means they might lose the ability to perform a skill they previously mastered. This can include children having episodes of bed-wetting, nightmares or night terrors.
Children in middle or high school might have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or they start waking up very early. You might also notice a difference in their eating habits, whether they’re eating a lot of junk food, not eating as much as usual or not eating at all. Moodiness, irritability, isolation and drastic changes with school grades are other signs that could indicate your child is experiencing high levels of stress or anxiety.
How do I know if my child is just having a bad day or if it’s something else?
The best rule of thumb to follow is if you start noticing things and behaviors that raise a red flag for you as a parent, something’s probably off. Trust your intuition. You can and should reach out to your child’s school because, during the school year, teachers and school staff spend more time with your child than you do. If they’re also noticing something is different, you may need to take action.
How can I help my child?
Think of coping skills as a toolbox. You might pull out the hammer often, but that’s not going to work for every job. You’ll need other tools. Coping skills are similar. Maybe your child loves a particular sport but at night or during school hours, that coping skill is not accessible to them. Encourage them to think of other ways that they can cope. Below are a few tips:
- Encourage communication. Help your child to identify his or her feelings and name them by asking, “I’m noticing that you’re more tired than usual, can you help me understand?” Kids usually like to use simplistic words, like ‘mad’ or ‘sad.’ You can ask, “Help me understand a little more,” or, “What do you think you need right now?” and encourage them to be the problem solvers.
- Help your child unplug. Whether it’s dancing, listening to music or going out for a walk, movement is always great for stress or anxiety and boosting mood. Look for grounding techniques to get out of the head and into the body. For example, when you go out for a walk, help them notice what they see, hear, feel, etc. This approach is adaptable for all ages.
- Talk to your child after a traumatic event. When hearing about violence in the news, reassure children that they are safe. This can help validate your child’s feelings and comfort them during a period of confusion and fear.
- Reach out to someone your child looks up to. Sometimes, your child won’t be ready to talk to you about something right away. You can reach out to a teacher, school counselor, coach or a mentor in their lives that they connect well with and talk to them.
- Adopt an attitude of curiosity. Get curious about what your child is feeling and listen without judgement. Ask them open-ended questions like, “What can you tell me about your day?”
Don’t forget to take some time to unplug and practice good self-care or ask for help if you need to – it’s OK. Your child needs you, but taking care of others can also take a toll on you. Remind your child that you’re there to support them, but they’re driving the ship and you’re next to them in the passenger’s seat.
Patients must be referred into the AAMC Psychiatric Day Hospital by a physician. If you think you or a loved one may be a candidate for these services, please speak with your doctor. If you need a doctor who specializes in mental health, please contact AAMG Mental Health Specialists at 410-573-9000.