Coming Out of Covid – Anxiety in Kids and Teens and How to Help
With Covid vaccination rates rising and signs that the U.S. is opening back up, it can be tempting to believe that life for everyone, including your child, is about to return to normal. But that would be a mistake. Anxiety in kids and teens is still on the rise.
Sadly, while some children lost beloved grandparents or another close family member to Covid, countless others lost milestones, opportunities, and plans.
For many people, grief is associated solely with the death or the loss of someone they love. But loss is actually a broken connection of any kind. Grief can be the result of a fractured friendship, a rejection, or the loss of an event that will never take place.
These losses are equally important and significant. Every child has experienced some pain, disappointment, or sadness in the past 14 months. No loss is too small to be validated and supported.
Instead of rushing to get things back to “normal”, it’s important to take some time to affirm your child’s emotions, especially their anxiety. Before they can heal properly, they need to grieve their losses.
The Importance of Naming Losses When Dealing with Anxiety in Kids and Teens
Grieving losses is important for all children but even more so for those struggling with anxiety. The pandemic introduced so much fear into their lives. For many, it felt as if the rug was pulled out from under them.
Moving through the various developmental stages is challenging enough for anxious kids and teens. Add in the restrictions enforced by the pandemic and it’s obvious that stress levels have been off the charts.
What are some of the losses our children have experienced?
Here is a checklist of pandemic losses:
- Death of loved one from Covid or other cause
- Inability to attend funerals or gather with extended family
- Lack of stability
- Social isolation and loneliness
- Lack of community from not being in-person at school
- Learning interruptions or setbacks
- Failing grades
- Postponed family trips and vacations
- Canceled athletic, musical, theater, or other interest camps
- Breakdown in structure and routine
- Missed birthday parties, sports, concerts, prom, school plays, graduations, and other celebrations
- Lack of independence for teens
- Missed opportunities related to future dreams and aspirations
- Friends’ lack of effort to connect during the pandemic
- Social media evidence/photos of friends getting together without them
- Drifting apart or conflict in friendships
- Sense of time lost
As difficult as it’s been to miss milestones, it’s the day-to-day interactions with the external world that have a bigger impact on our children, especially teens.
Under normal circumstances, teens would be attempting to build a life separate from their parents, exploring their identity, gathering resources, and learning skills that will take them into adulthood.
Instead, they have felt trapped at home, developmentally stifled with little validation from peers and significant mentors in their life.
It’s no wonder many feel robbed of an entire year that they’ll never get back.
What Can You Expect to See With Anxiety in Kids and Teens Post-Covid?
Every child is unique so how quickly they bounce back from the pandemic and assimilate into a post-pandemic world will differ widely.
Most mental health professionals agree that the greater the number of stressful situations a child experiences, the deeper the impact will be. Kids and teens with pre-existing factors such as anxiety likely face greater challenges.
Fortunately, the majority of children have the ability to bounce back from pandemic challenges given enough positive experiences and support from caring and invested adults.
But that doesn’t mean that the post-pandemic re-entry won’t be bumpy, especially for those kids and teens who are socially anxious. They’ll need to brush up on their social skills and adjust to advocating for themselves in school again. As expectations for them to be self-directed increase, they may struggle.
Ways to Help When You See Anxiety in Kids and Teens
Ultimately, long-term healing for anxious kids will come from grieving what’s been lost and looking towards the future.
The most important thing you can do as a parent is to engage in ongoing conversation with your child. Thus, two important skills are to LISTEN and to ASK QUESTIONS.
You want to create a safe space to explore difficult topics with your children such as mental health, deferred dreams and plans, relationship conflicts, academic performance, and missed opportunities.
Here are some specific ways you can help your child to name their losses and heal:
Review checklist of pandemic losses
Take some time to sit down with your child and review the checklist of pandemic losses together. Ask them what losses they identify with the most. Listen very hard and let your kids talk. Don’t give advice or lecture them. Simply listen to your child’s sadness and feelings of loss. Validate them and let them know you’re there for support in whatever way they need.
Then when they’re ready, ask if they’d be willing to answer some additional questions.
Ask solution-focused therapy questions
Ask questions with curiosity and compassion. Solution Focused Brief Therapy questions can be very effective. When your child responds, use the opportunity to validate their feelings. Avoid judging what you may not understand; just listen.
- How have you managed to keep going despite all the changes and losses you’ve experienced during the pandemic?
- What have you drawn on?
- Where does that (strength, tenacity, faith, assertiveness, courage, etc.) come from?
- How has that made a difference in your life?
- What told you that you’re the kind of person who can make it through this pandemic and get to the other side of it?
- Can you tell me what that says about you?
- What have you learned about yourself that perhaps wasn’t so clear to you before?
- How will this make a difference going forward?
Stay connected socially
Many kids have lost their confidence socially during the past year of social isolation. That’s to be expected. But as more of our communities are opening back up, it becomes imperative that your kids start interacting socially again. Connecting with friends and family even if it’s digitally, to begin with, is a good first step. Encourage your child to initiate contact in whatever way feels most comfortable for them.
Allow for creative expression
Journaling, playing music, painting, drawing, writing poetry, crafting, dancing or other forms of self-expression are all highly useful in helping kids cope with loss. You can also encourage them to listen to music, watch movies, or read in order to engage emotionally and take a break from current anxiety or feelings of loss.
Make sure your child gets enough sleep, exercise, and healthy food to build up their immune system. Often emotions are dependent upon our physical wellbeing. So, if your child feels rested and physically stronger, often they’ll feel better mentally too. You can always include the entire family when it comes to practicing good self-care (i.e. going on a hike together) which has the added benefit of connecting you all in powerful ways.
Maintain structure and routine for anxiety in kids and teens
It’s no surprise that kids thrive on structure and routine. Both help children to regulate their emotions in response to external stimuli. So much of life was disrupted by the pandemic which resulted in boredom, frustration, and run-away thoughts and emotions. Now it’s important to get back to creating daily schedules with specific times to share meals, do homework, exercise or play sports, socialize, and have unstructured free time. Be realistic and creative about what makes sense for your family. But staying busy, productive, and engaged enhances everyone’s wellbeing.
Continue to validate ongoing emotions
It’s important as parents to routinely check in with your kids about their emotions, thoughts, questions, and even behavior. You will not increase their anxiety by talking about it. Instead, you are creating a safe space to explore what they’re feeling as they transition back to their lives beyond the pandemic. Ongoing check-ins also help you as a parent know what issues your child may be struggling with.
Kids of any age love feeling competent and good at something. It builds confidence and feelings of self-worth. You can support kids with anxiety in Chicago, IL, or statewide, by helping them find activities that give them a sense of purpose and teach them how to set related goals—whether it’s writing a poem or creative story, learning to bake bread, or golfing. A child who works to master something gains grit and perseverance not to mention pride at having accomplished what they set out to do.
Helping others can be a real mood booster. Has your child gained some skill or knowledge that they can now offer to others? Teaching a craft, volunteer tutoring, organizing a canned food drive, creating a homemade card or a video with a song or poem to someone who has lost a loved one, or offering to mow an elderly neighbor’s lawn are just some examples. The possibilities are endless. Showing social support is a wonderful gift and a lifelong lesson for your kids.
Ask for help
If your child is dealing with anxiety or is emotionally fragile, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. An online therapist in Illinois can be a critical resource for helping your child move through their loss, grief, and anxiety at this time. No parent needs to shoulder the mental wellbeing of their child alone. Ask for help if you’re interested in getting your child started in Christian counseling or online anxiety treatment in Illinois!
Begin Online Therapy for Anxiety in Kids and Teens in Illinois and now Florida!
As an experienced and caring therapist, I love providing counseling for anxiety. To start your child’s counseling journey, call me at 224-236-2296 or email Helena@BrieflyCounseling.com to schedule a FREE 20-minute consultation.
Whether you’re on the North Shore, in Naperville, Chicago, Champaign, Barrington, Libertyville, Glenview, or downstate Illinois, I can help.
And effective 2024, I am now licensed in Florida! For parents in Jacksonville, Pensacola, Destin, Crestview, Coral Gables, Weston, Parkland, Naples, Marco Island, and Pinecrest, I have immediate openings.
Schedule your appointment or consultation today. I look forward to working with your child to quickly and effectively help them in activating their strengths, resources, and resilience, in order to live with confidence and hope.