Easing Anxiety in Children: Tips from RiverValley Behavioral Health

Shifting the focus to what we can control
Updated: Apr. 3, 2020 at 10:20 AM CDT
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The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way most people go about their every day lives. The uncertainty mixed in that has caused some people to stress, be fearful, and feel anxious. Children are not immune to those feelings.

14 News interviewed David Roark, LPCC. He’s an outpatient therapist at RiverValley Behavioral Health. He works with kids often and said they like us can get really anxious during a time like this. He says the biggest issues he’s seen recently have stemmed from the recent major routine changes. They aren’t going to school. Mom and dad maybe aren’t working. Kids have more time to sit around and ponder about the “what ifs” which can lead down an anxious path. Here are tips he gave for how parents can suppress the anxiety.

  1. Validate their concerns. Roark suggested hearing what they have to say and listening to their worries. He says make sure to assure your kids that feelings like that are normal during a time like this.
  2. Reassure your kids that doctors and scientists are currently working to take care of the situation.
  3. Empower your kids. Roark says it’s important to remind them that they can play a big part in bringing change. They can do this by social distancing and washing their hands often. Those are things children can control.
  4. Create a routine and stick to it.

“With structure comes security.” Roark said, “So I think when you get up, have kids change into clothes. Get ready for the day. Get school work done for those going to school. Have activities planned out. Maybe set up a poster board for activities or a jar with activities that the kids can pull out and do something.”

Roark said keeping kids busy is very important. He says when kids stop doing things, that’s when anxiety and depression can start to sneak in. Here are signs he says parents can watch for that might indicate their kids are struggling with anxiety.

  1. Disruption in sleep. This could come in the form of nightmares or the inability to fall asleep
  2. Mood swings. Children may appear more solemn or withdrawn
  3. Washing hands obsessively

“I think the first step is to talk with them. See what is going on. See what level their anxiety is and especially if we haven’t done that yet. Remind them, you know, everyone is filled with anxiety. This is normal, " Roark said, "Because one of the things I find one of the importance of structures is to avoid that time to sit there and ‘what if', ‘what if this happens’, ‘what if that happens’ because that really compounds anxiety.”

Roark said make sure the days are structured to where kids have time for physical activities. This could be playing basketball in the driveway or painting a picture inside. He said take breaks during learning time for some jumping jacks or push-ups. During a time of such uncontrollable and uncertain circumstances, he said make sure kids focus on what they can control. Ideas include letting them have a say in what food you buy from the grocery store. Again, remind them they control their hand washing and social distancing.

“What I would stress the most is what we’ve covered. Do the things you can. Focus on what you can control. Put as little focus on what you can’t control. It’s normal to be afraid and anxious. We truly are all in this together,” Roark said.

You can read more about the services RiverValley Behavioral Health offers here: http://www.rvbh.com/

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