As young people return to school and other public spaces and social situations, an Akron Children’s Hospital child psychiatrist cautions parents and caregivers to be mindful of new stressors that trigger anxiety-related responses.
“With any age child, the anxiety can present with undesired behaviors, including significant tantrums,” said Dr. Laura Markley, medical director, Consultation/Liaison Psychiatry. “It is important to understand that they are not ‘faking’ these symptoms, and they may benefit from treatment.”
Anxiety disorders, the number-one mental health concern affecting youth, can also present as physical symptoms like upset stomach, headache, sometimes even nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Tips for managing anxiety
Dr. Markley outlines several suggestions for readying children who may feel anxiety when returning to public situations after such a prolonged social isolation.
- “Normalize” anxiety: Let your child know it’s OK to be nervous, and you will do your best to help them through that, but going to school and other public places is not something that can be avoided.
- Teach your child relaxation techniques. An easy one for children is to blow air out of their mouth (as if they were blowing bubbles) for 3-5 seconds and to repeat the word “calm” in their mind.
- Discuss scenarios. Play out ahead of time what they might experience in a given situation and encourage them to participate in and embrace new activities.
- Praise your child when they come home and ask about their day. Show individual attention and reinforcement. Positive attention is a huge motivator!
At what point is anxiety a medical issue?
Dr. Markley said when the issues begin to interfere with their functioning, it is time to consult your child’s pediatrician. Do not wait until they have missed several days of school or shown repeated fear about reentering public places, she said.
“With anxiety, the faster you intervene, the better,” said Dr. Markley. “Your child’s pediatrician can help assess the situation and recommend therapy to help your child cope with their feelings.”
Coronavirus and school anxiety
Both parents and children may experience school anxiety as it relates to the coronavirus. What is important to remember, Dr. Markley said, is even though the situation exists, we all have some control over it.
“The seed that grows into anxiety is feeling a lack of control,” she said.
Wearing masks, washing our hands, and staying at a safe distance are measures that can help assure our safety, she said. Reinforce that you as parents are making sure that everything is done to prioritize safety.
For more information about helping your child deal with school anxiety, consult your pediatrician or contact Akron Children’s behavioral health counselors at 330-543-5015.