While children and teens might overreact or overdramatize their situations, their fears and anxieties can be very real. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that 25 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds suffer from anxiety. Academic pressures, social problems with friends and peers, and family issues contribute to childhood and teen anxiety. Their stress manifests in a variety of ways including excessive worry, doomsday thinking, sleeping disturbances, stomachaches, nausea, bed wetting, tantrums, disruptive behavior and, in some cases, substance abuse. Fortunately, parents have many options in helping a child or teen who is suffering from anxiety.
10 Tips to Limit Anxiety at Home
All children and teens need a loving and supportive home. Youth that suffer from anxiety can benefit from healthy living, a patient parent who is willing to listen, and coping skills to manage difficult feelings.
1. Sleep - Getting enough sleep is important at all ages. It gives the body time to rest and recover. Children and teens should get 8 to 11 hours of sleep a night. As teens get older, they often want to stay up later and sleep in longer, which can reduce the amount of sleep they get during school. Don't berate your teen for sleeping in--they are not being lazy but often need those extra hours.
2. Eat well - Teens in particular are prone to making bad food choices that can reduce energy and mood and impact health. A balanced diet that includes protein, complex carbohydrates, and fruits and vegetables can give kids the energy they need. Parents should limit junk foods such as soda, candies and fried foods, which offer no nutritional value and can lead to feelings of sluggishness.
3. Exercise - Physical activity increases endorphins in the brain, which improves mood and helps lower anxiety. Children and teens should get at least one hour of exercise a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This doesn't have to be in an organized sport, although recreational and school sports are a good choice. Sending the kids out to play, ride bikes or anything that involves moving will do the trick.
4. Manage time - In an effort to raise well-rounded children, many parents over-schedule their children. Too many activities, especially if there is pressure to excel can create stress. Teenagers are often involved in sports, school clubs, volunteer work, jobs, on top of increasingly difficult homework. If a child or teen is feeling overwhelmed and stressed, it might be time to take some things out of the calendar.
5. Avoid perfection - The drive for perfect grades, the most points scored in sports, and earning awards can have a negative impact. While parents can encourage their child to do his best, they shouldn't push for perfection. Children who strive for perfection frequently become anxious and develop low self-esteem when their efforts fail.
6. Identify stress - To reduce stress, the child and teen needs to be able to recognize it. Stress can have physical manifestations, such as stomachaches, as well as emotional symptoms, such as worry. Parents can support children by helping them make the link between the symptoms he's experiencing to feelings of stress or anxiety.
7. Coping activities - Once the child or teen can recognize feelings of stress, the next step is to respond to it with actions designed to reduce it. Parent can help their child find calming activities, such as deep breathing, meditating, walking, listening to music or talking about frustrations.
8. Manage doomsday thinking - Children and teens with anxiety often think of the very worst outcomes, and the stress they'd have to deal with if such outcomes happened. But most often, the worst-case scenario doesn't happen. Parents can help by explaining that a misstep or problem doesn't mean the end of world. Getting a bad grade or not making the team doesn't mean the child or teen won't be successful or their life is ruined.
9. Cognitive behavioral therapy - Children and teens who suffer from anxiety so severe that it detrimentally affects their everyday lives may benefit from counseling. Therapy can help children and teens learn to manage the thoughts that lead to feeling anxious. The idea is that if such thoughts can be managed, so too can the feelings and behaviors.
10. Medication - In the most severe situations, medication along with therapy may help children and teens reduce anxiety and live a more content life. However, parents need to weigh the benefits of medication with the possible side effects, such as insomnia, nausea, fatigue, headache and possibly suicidal thoughts. If a child's anxiety is so severe that support and guidance at home and counseling doesn't help, then medication may be the appropriate next step. Medications should be closely monitored by a medical doctor.
Stress and anxiety are a part of everyone's life. In a lot of cases, it can be motivating, helping people take proper action to keep life in balance. However, for many reasons, children and teens can suffer from anxiety so severely that it limits their lives. By providing a healthy lifestyle, support and understanding, parents can take an active role in reduce their child's stress.